CCHIT receives record number of EHR applicants

The Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology has received a record 35 applications from electronic health-records system vendors for the fourth round of government-supported certification testing, according to CCHIT officials.

The deadline for applications was Wednesday, said Mark Leavitt, chairman of CCHIT, which has thus far certified 57 EHR systems for use in the ambulatory-care environment since testing began last year under a three-year contract totaling $7.5 million with HHS.

Leavitt had said earlier he thought there would be a drop off in the number off applicants, but had expressed surprise at the steady stream of applicants.

“It was, again, more than we expected,” Leavitt said.

This is the final batch of applicants seeking certification by CCHIT using the initial set of testing criteria. Results of the current round of testing should be announced in April, Leavitt said.

In addition, CCHIT is working on development of additional criteria for use in the second round of testing due to start later this year. The public comment period for the expanded 2007 criteria for outpatient EHRs opened Wednesday and will run through Feb. 28.

“Applications will open again May 1 for testing under the 2007 criteria,” said CCHIT spokeswoman Sue Reber, who expects a number of applicants under the new testing regime will be vendors applying for re-certification even though vendors whose systems passed under the 2006 criteria can advertise as being CCHIT compliant for up to three years.

“We’ve had a fair amount of comment from a number of the certified vendors that they are going to recertify for 2007,” Reber said. “Part of what is driving this is we will begin the first significant interoperability testing in 2007.”

The two major interoperability areas to be tested are whether the system enables a physician to send an electronic prescription to a pharmacy and to electronically receive laboratory results, Reber said.

CCHIT has asked for and received deeming authority from HHS to certify an EHR system’s interoperability, which is a prerequisite to quality for Stark and anti-kickback relief provisions created by HHS last August. The Stark exceptions and anti-kickback safe harbors allow hospitals to pay for up to 85% of the software and training costs for installing an EHR system in physician offices.

CCHIT does not disclose the names of vendors seeking certification. It only discloses those whose systems pass, but some of the vendors swelling the ranks of this recent batch of certification candidates are those developers that had submitted applications for their systems previously and either withdrew them before testing or failed one or more portions of the test, Leavitt said. To be certified, systems must meet all criteria. According to Leavitt, none of the EHR systems that have received CCHIT certification thus far is open-source.

“Each quarter, not everyone that applies makes it through certification,” he said. “Some, even before we inspect, they say they’re not ready. We don’t have an issue with that, if they change their mind.

At least one of the EHR systems seeking certification in the latest round is known, however. It is the work product of a three-year effort by the CMS and the Veterans Affairs Department to adapt the VA’s Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture, or VistA, software for physician use outside the VA in the small office market.

Joseph Dal Molin, interim president and vice president of business development for WorldVista, confirmed that WorldVistA Office EHR is one of the systems being tested this round.

WorldVistA is not-for-profit organization that took over much of the development work for the VistA project under a contract initiated in 2004 by the CMS with the Iowa Foundation for Medical Care, the Medicare quality improvement organization for Iowa. The CMS spent slightly more than $6 million on the VistA Office development efforts to make a low-cost, quality EHR available for the small physician office market where most market surveys show the high cost of EHR systems is the No. 1 barrier to adoption.

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