Last week's settlement of a False Claims Act lawsuit against eClinicalWorks makes it easier for providers to make the switch to the electronic health records system of other vendors.

The electronic health records system vendor was hit with a fine of $155 million to settle a False Claims Act lawsuit that alleged that eClinicalWorks falsely certified that the EHR met all government criteria; that the vendor failed to adequately test software before release; failed to correct critical and urgent problems and bugs for an extended period of time; failed to ensure data portability and audit log requirements; and failed to reliably record lab and diagnostic imaging orders.

The plaintiff in the lawsuit, Brendan Delaney, an IT staff worker for New York City who was implementing the software at Rikers Island jail; he encountered numerous problems with the EHR, its coding and functionality. The suit was filed under the False Claims Act, a federal law that allows people who are not affiliated with the government to file actions against federal contractors claiming fraud against the government.

In agreeing to the settlement, the company denied any wrongdoing and said it fully cooperated with the Department of Justice civil investigation. The suit, filed under the False Claims Act, a federal law that allows people who are not affiliated with the government to file actions against federal contractors claiming fraud against the government. The settlement is the first of its kind for a healthcare information technology company facing formal charges that its systems did not help providers achieve objectives of the Meaningful Use program.

Executives of eClinicalWorks could not be reached for immediate comment on the lawsuit or on the potential that customers may switch to other vendors' products.

Among other provisions, the settlement with the federal Department of Justice includes provisions that require the company to assist its customers in making the switch to the products of other competitors, at no charge. That will make providers’ decisions to opt out of eClinicalWorks products easier, says Erik Bermudez, a senior research director with KLAS, a research firm that tracks rankings of information technology used by healthcare providers.

In the past, the charge to leave eClinicalWorks before a contract has concluded has been high, up to tens of thousands of dollars, Bermudez says. Now, customers can get updated versions of their software free of charge, and upon request, eClinicalWorks must transfer customers’ data to another EHR vendor without penalties or service charges.

That said, before the settlement was announced, KLAS research found that eClinicalWorks customers were generally satisfied with its products; some 84 percent of small practices with 10 or fewer physicians were planning to continue to use eClinicalWorks’ products, while 71 percent of surveyed practices with more than 11 physicians planned to continue to use its products. While those results are similar to change rates for products of other vendors, they don't reflect any change in perception as a result of last week's settlement.

In the next few weeks, KLAS plans to survey eClinicalWorks customers to determine the extent to which the settlement may influence their decisions to switch, Bermudez says. Those answers may determine how well the company will manage this incident and the impact on its business, he says.

Also See: Why the eClinicalWorks settlement may rattle the industry

While it’s not unusual for providers to complain about aspects of all vendors’ products, in this case, “when the feds get (involved), it’s a big deal,” Bermudez adds.

He believes that some of eClinicalWorks’ clients will remain satisfied with the performance and services they receive, but Bermudez isn’t sure if that will hold the vendor’s market together. Providers that are on the fence and making a decision to leave will find the process facilitated because of the crippling sanctions in the settlement.

That said, switching EHRs remains a painful experience and a lot of work, Bermudez notes.

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