Feds pressure vendors to disclose HIT-certification information

In an effort at increased transparency, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT is requiring developers to provide more detailed and easier-to-understand information about certified HIT including costs and limitations providers may encounter when implementing and using these products.

Available on a new website and the upgraded Certified HIT Product List (CHPL), ONC contends that the disclosure of the information—as required by the agency’s recent 2015 Edition final rule—will enable purchasers to better compare and select products that meet their needs.

The goal is to update the online sites regularly and to help providers make more informed buying decisions when it comes to selecting EHR products and vendors. The agency made the announcement Wednesday during ONC’s annual meeting.

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“This information and our new websites will make the process of comparing and buying certified health IT simpler and better, discourage information blocking, and create clear incentives for developers to focus on the quality and usability of their products,” said National Coordinator for HIT Karen DeSalvo, MD. “This is a way that we can really make sure folks know what they are purchasing, know what they are not, and create a better platform for a more transparent marketplace.”

The regulatory requirement applies to all HIT certified to the 2014 Edition, as well as newly-issued 2015 Edition of standards, implementation specifications, and certification criteria. Those vendors who do not comply with the disclosure requirements will be subject to corrective action plans that will be published online and will be at risk of having their product certifications terminated, according to ONC.

The agency announced that ONC-Authorized Certification Bodies will be conducting active surveillance of these new disclosure and transparency requirements to ensure that developers are compliant, and they will regularly report non-conformities and correction action plans on the CHPL.

“The current health IT landscape has lacked reliable information about the costs, limitations, and trade-offs of competing health IT products and services,” states a June 1 ONC blog. “Without this information, health IT purchasers may find it hard to effectively understand and estimate the kinds of costs and implementation issues they may face. This lack of transparency also can limit incentives for developers to improve their products and can lead to practices—such as information blocking—that interfere with the flow of health information and the use of these tools to improve care.”

Industry organizations stated support for efforts to increase the availability of information to purchasers of healthcare IT.

“We have long supported efforts that assist providers in selecting the right health IT solutions to meet the particular needs of their practices and patients,” said Leigh Burchell, vice president of government affairs at Allscripts and chair of the Electronic Health Records Association. “There are a number of resources that have provided this kind of information to the market for many years, such as the American College of Physicians’ American EHR web site, the Black Book Rankings, Gartner, the HIMSS Analytics EMR Adoption Model, and KLAS, among others.

“The new ONC transparency webpage provides information links to the companies themselves that complements these well-established resources and may be of value to providers and organizations who are seeking new health IT solutions.”

ONC’s get-tough stance when it comes to vendor transparency comes as Congress is attempting to tighten the screws by making EHR vendors more accountable for their performance in three key areas: security, usability, and interoperability.

In February, the Senate health committee unanimously passed the Improving Health Information Technology Act that would establish a HIT rating system to make it easier for providers to compare certified products based on those three criteria. The rating system, managed by a newly created “development council” composed of representatives from accredited certifying bodies, testing laboratories, and ONC, would give systems a one-, two-, or three-star rating.

The legislation would also require vendors to attest they do not engage in certain information blocking activities, including nondisclosure clauses in their contracts, as a condition of certification and maintenance of certification.

In addition, it would make information, such as summaries, screen shots, and video demonstrations, publicly available through ONC showing how certified HIT meets certification requirements. The bill would also require vendors to report on the performance of their products every two years and authorizes the assessment of fines—and in some cases decertification of products—for failing to report.

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