Federal agencies are hoping that two new tools will help provider organizations select, purchase and then make the best use of electronic health records during the course of care.

The efforts are part of an effort by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology to equip providers in making good purchase decisions for EHRs.

The agencies are releasing an EHR contract guide to explain key concepts in EHR contracts to assist providers in navigating the contractual process and assist in the planning and acquisition of records systems.

In addition, HHS and ONC are releasing a newly expanded Health IT Playbook, an online tool that offers user-friendly tools, resources and guides that can help providers implement and use health IT so that they can optimize their use of systems, particularly as providers transition to alternative payment models.

The information is particularly helpful for smaller healthcare organizations, such as physician group practices, that have yet to implement EHRs or are considering swapping into new records systems. Government data show that about 25 percent of eligible professionals have yet to implement EHRs.

The guides were developed to help healthcare organizations with practical tools to help “clinicians and healthcare administrators as they navigate the purchase and use of health IT,” says Vindell Washington, MD, recently named national coordinator for health information technology. The initiatives are a response to provider requests for clear information about selecting, contracting for and using records systems, he adds.

Vindell Washington, MD

The information guides were released yesterday at the beginning of National Health IT Week.

The new contract guide is entitled EHR Contracts Untangled: Selecting Wisely, Negotiating Terms and Understanding the Fine Print. It includes contract example contract language to help providers acquire records systems and negotiate contract terms with vendors.

While the guide focuses on the acquisition of EHR systems, the concepts and examples may translate into purchases of other types of health IT products. Beyond focusing on contract language, the guide also looks at concerns such as managing safety and security risks, ensuring data integrity, and handling disagreements or decisions to switch to another EHR product.

“Purchasing processes and contracts have an important role in ensuring information can move freely and securely across all the devices and IT systems used in patient care,” says Ed Cantwell, executive director of the Center for Medical Interoperability. “This guide can help foster the dialogue between buyers and sellers to achieve that shared goal.”

The Health IT Playbook is intended to fill a gap in enabling clinicians to use health IT products in the process of delivering patient care. ONC says the guide:

  • Identifies and shares practices and success stories around various phases of EHR and health IT implementation.
  • Provides information about how providers can resolve key issues and challenges related to optimizing health IT and tailoring it to their workflow.
  • Provides specific illustrations on how laws such as the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy and Security Rule support the exchange of electronic health information for care planning, quality measurement and improvement, and other operations.
  • Serves as a central resource for health care providers and health IT professionals when seeking guidance on using the most up-to-date technologies and processes to support patient care and help their offices function efficiently.

As part of National Health IT Week, ONC will host a public webinar to demonstrate the Health IT Playbook at 2 p.m. Friday, Sept. 30. Register here.

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