What is EHR certification?

August 4, 2006

Special Report

If you're thinking about buying an electronic health record, a new, official stamp of approval can help reduce the financial risk of choosing a system.

On July 18, the Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology (CCHIT), a private, nonprofit group formed by three leading health IT associations, announced that 20 ambulatory EHRs had met its criteria for a fully functioning, secure system. What made CCHIT's certification different from other EHR rankings is that, first, the Commission actually tested the products, and second, it certified them as part of a contract with the federal government.

Government leaders believe certification will help accelerate EHR adoption and lead to interoperability-the ability of EHRs and other health information systems to communicate with one another. So the Administration plans to put its muscle behind certification. Michael Leavitt, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, said that when amendments to the Stark regulations are announced in the near future, they'll specify that, in order for hospitals to help doctors acquire EHRs, they'll have to be interoperable, certified products. And he stated at the July press conference, "If people want to do business with [the federal government] in the long term, they need to achieve a level of interoperability, and it needs to be certified as such."

CCHIT will add new requirements for certification each year. Although the 2006 sticker is good for three years, many vendors are expected to apply for recertification annually. Because existing systems will be updated with the new features, FP Douglas Henley, executive vice president of the AAFP, predicts that most physicians who buy certified products today will be able to keep up with the CCHIT requirements. (The AAFP, the ACP, and the AAP have all endorsed EHR certification.)

But it'll be expensive to continually rewrite EHR software, and CCHIT also charges a $28,000 certification fee. So there's some concern that vendors of inexpensive products won't be able to meet the certification criteria or, if they do, that they'll have to raise their prices substantially.

The vendors who received full certification were Allscripts (HealthMatics and TouchWorks), Cerner (PowerChart Office), Companion Technologies, eClinicalWorks, Emdeon Practice Services (Intergy), e-MDs, Epic Systems (EpicCare), GE Healthcare (Centricity), JMJ Technologies (EncounterPro), McKesson (Horizon), MCS-Medical Communication Systems (mMd.Net), MedcomSoft, Medical Informatics Engineering (WebChart), Misys Healthcare Systems, NextGen Healthcare Information Systems, Nightingale Informatix (Nightingale's Physician Workstation Suite), and Practice Partner.

Two other vendors, Community Computer Service (MEDENT) and LSS Data Systems (Medical and Practice Management Client/Server), received conditional certification because their products weren't yet out on the market. At press time, CCHIT was testing a few additional applicants for 2006 certification.