CCHIT Proposes Expansion, Leaving Some Vendors Crying Foul

Kathryn Mackenzie, for HealthLeaders Media, January 27, 2009

Since launching in 2004, the Certification Commission for Health Information Technology has become the de facto stamp of approval for EHRs, helping providers judge EHR product suitability, quality, interoperability, and security. For about $28,000, a vendor who meets the Commission's criteria can be certified, automatically proving to providers that their EHR is worth the money, say CCHIT proponents. Now, CCHIT is expanding its scope of certification, and not everyone is happy about CCHIT's increasing influence in the market.

The expansion includes two areas already named in previous years—behavioral health and long-term care—that will be developed as planned. In addition, four new program areas are proposed, all of which are optional add-on certifications for ambulatory EHRs: clinical research, dermatology, advanced interoperability, and advanced quality.

One of the main components being added to CCHIT's lineup will be increased flexibility and opening up the option of certifying advanced levels of technology for products that go "beyond the basics" in any domain, says Mark Leavitt, MD, chair of CCHIT.

"There is now a degree of sophistication with the technology and a readiness on the part of the end users that we need to have different levels of certification. You will still have the certification for ambulatory EHR, but those with advanced decision support, for example, would get additional certification that says this product also offers advanced decision support so if that's something you are ready for and looking for, this has it," says Leavitt.

He says the group chose the expansion areas based on a model that quantified the benefit of certification by looking at how many patients are affected by the specialty, how many dollars are spent in the specialty, the readiness of the specialty (for example, have providers gotten together and formed committees to define what they need or would CCHIT have to start from scratch) and then, "we balanced those out. We ultimately came out with a prioritization, and published that January 14 open for comment. We are accepting comment through February 5," says Leavitt. CCHIT also is considering eventual certification programs for software to support eye care, oncology, obstetrics/gynecology, advanced security, and advanced clinical decision support.

Just how much CCHIT certification should influence the decision about which EHR system to buy has become a point of contention for detractors who say smaller vendors are getting pushed out by the cost of getting certified ($23,200 for the initial review and $4,800 in annual maintenance fees over the three-year certification), giving vendors with capital to spare an unfair advantage. In addition, critics maintain that CCHIT certification will lead to higher prices for EHRs because vendors will be forced to pass the cost of certification on to providers and competition will be limited by narrowing the number of competitive software vendors.

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