HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt's new plan to remake healthcare IT included a package of requests for proposals to get hired help in certifying standards for electronic health records.
At least one of the certification groups planning to bid on an RFP recently accepted funding from vendors in the industry, with one vendor who didn't make a donation questioning the contributions' propriety.
Included in the federal government's package of requests for proposals is one that calls for creation of a certification process that guarantees an EHR system's interoperability, security and reliability.
The Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology has been working on that since July 2004, but it has been a "volunteer effort," said CCHIT certification process work-group member Dan Michelson.
Michelson, chief marketing officer for clinical software provider Allscripts Healthcare Solutions, said if the feds choose CCHIT to develop a national certification process, the money from that contract "will take us where we need to go."
"There needs to be additional funding," he said. The good news that came out of the creation of Leavitt's new oversight board, the American Health Information Community, is that certification will be funded, he said.
CCHIT, which was founded, initially funded and staffed by the American Health Information Management Association, Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society and the National Alliance for Health Information Technology, had its resources boosted recently by more than $300,000 from hospitals, vendors, insurance companies and associations.
The California HealthCare Foundation contributed more than $200,000; and another set of contributions totaling more than $100,000 came from the American College of Physicians, HCA, McKesson Corp., Sutter Health, United Health Foundation and WellPoint. The contributions from the groups were roughly equal, according to a CCHIT spokeswoman. CCHIT Chairman and HIMSS Medical Director Mark Leavitt said some of the organizations had approached the commission and asked what they could do to help. Then, in an attempt to get a broader base of support, he said others were solicited for contributions.
Leavitt said the way the funding was structured should relieve any concerns that contributors were seeking to buy influence. "If one company was a dominant source of funding it could create that impression," he said, adding that the money came from a cross section of CCHIT's three stakeholder groups: providers, purchasers and vendors.
Leavitt also noted that the money came with no strings attached.
Girish Kumar, founder of eClinicalWorks, a provider of ambulatory clinical information systems, said the vendor contributions might cause CCHIT to lose some credibility. "It doesn't sound right," Kumar said. "I would have hoped their funding could have come from a neutral source, but at the end of the day it doesn't matter, and we don't worry about external forces. We look at what we can do, not what others are doing."
Kumar added that the government's involvement in general and the certification process in particular should help speed physician adoption of electronic health records. Instead of taking 10 to 12 years, he predicted it might take five to seven years. Another positive , Kumar said, was that there will be uniform product standards without one company monopolizing the market.
Also, since CCHIT expects to wrap up its work in the next six months or so, he said the private sector might use the commission's certification process until federally approved certification guidelines come along.
If CCHIT is chosen to develop the certification process, Leavitt said there could eventually be many others who certify EHRs because the request for proposals talks about prototyping a process that many entities could execute. Leavitt said CCHIT is the only group he knows of that is prepared to respond to the certification RFP, but added that the lure of federal money "may bring others out of the woodwork."
Joyce Sensmeier, HIMSS' director of professional services, said she agreed. "When you wave dollars, people usually respond."