The Electronic Health Record Association does not support Congress’ call for the decertification of EHR products that block the sharing of health information, included in report language accompanying the fiscal year 2015 omnibus appropriations bill.

While the association supports efforts to reduce barriers to interoperability, such as the roadmap being developed by the Office of the National Coordinator for HIT to advance the use of interoperable health information, EHRA chair Mark Segal tells Health Data Management that the organization believes congressionally-mandated product decertification would have negative effects on the healthcare industry as a whole.

“We do not believe that the concept of decertifying products that met and continue to meet federal interoperability certification criteria, which align with meaningful use requirements, would be an effective solution to the challenges faced by providers tasked with exchanging data,” argues Segal, who is also vice president of government and industry affairs for GE Healthcare IT. “In fact, we believe it would introduce costly uncertainty into the industry and prevent clients using such products from attesting for meaningful use or employing them in other important delivery reform initiatives.”

The FY15 spending bill, which President Obama signed into law on Tuesday, calls on ONC to “take steps to decertify products that proactively block the sharing of information because those practices frustrate congressional intent, devalue taxpayer investments in [Certified EHR Technology], and make CEHRT less valuable and more burdensome for eligible hospitals and eligible providers to use.”

The 2009 HITECH Act authorized financial incentives to eligible hospitals, critical access hospitals, and eligible professionals that adopt and meaningfully use certified EHR technology to improve patient care. And, the ONC HIT Certification Program is designed to promote the use of common standards for interoperability. However, significant challenges to interoperability remain, says Dan Haley vice president of government affairs at physician software vendor athenahealth, which resigned from EHRA in April.

“As a member-governed consensus organization, the EHRA is obligated to cater to the lowest technological common denominator of its membership, so it is unfortunate but no surprise to see the organization defending the unacceptably low performance bar set by current MU criteria,” states Haley. “That is precisely why athenahealth parted ways with the organization earlier this year. The federal government should not be subsidizing technologies that impede progress toward the bipartisan goal of information fluidity in healthcare, period. It is entirely appropriate for Congress to press ONC to use its leverage to improve the unacceptable health IT status quo, and we are pleased to finally see tangible action to that end.”

In March, Haley warned regulators at a Federal Trade Commission workshop that the proliferation of closed data networks are trapping providers and patients into proprietary networks that are barriers to interoperability and competition. Specifically, he charged that some health systems block patient information sharing in ways that have antitrust implications.

“When the government comes with a check and subsidizes the purchase of a system that deliberately does not interoperate, does not communicate with other vendors, then the government is effectively perpetuating and supporting that phenomenon,” says Haley. “If the overriding policy goal is health information exchange and information fluidity nationally, then the government shouldn't be subsidizing those systems. And, if the goal is sharing information across networks and between networks, then the government shouldn't be turning a blind eye for years to deliberate data lock and market consolidation that comes from it.”

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