CCHIT: Don't buy a new EHR just yet

By Diana Manos
10:09 AM

Healthcare systems running on legacy software, customized commercial products or homegrown EHR systems that would cost hundreds of millions to replace can breath a sigh of relief, according to CCHIT.

That's because the Certification Commission for Health Information Technology claims that some healthcare organizations, particularly teaching hospitals, have discovered that certifying their own system through a special CCHIT program is the best alternative.

CCHIT announced last week that five new organizations joined Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in certifying complete or modular EHRs under its EHR Alternative Certification for Healthcare Providers, or EACH, an ONC-ATCB 2011/2012 certification program for already-installed EHR technology. They are: Health Management Associates, New York University Langone Medical Center, Northwestern University, Tenet Healthsystem Medical and the University of North Carolina Health Care.

[See also: CCHIT begins 2011 ceritification.]

“There are many myths about what is required to achieve certification and meaningful use,” said John Halamka, MD, Beth Israel Deaconess’s chief information officer. "The major challenge is not technology; it’s education. Partner as soon as you can with an authorized testing and certification body and get educated about the requirements because you will find it’s quite doable,” he said.

John Baba, chief technology officer for the University of North Carolina said achieving meaningful use certification for the university’s 15-year-old “home grown” system under CCHIT’s EACH program saved the university the $200 million or more it would have cost to swap out the system.

The cost was just one consideration, Baba said. Training the doctors on a new system would be “an even bigger ordeal.”

Baba said the process of preparation to achieve the certification was “very nerve wracking” because UNC Healthcare was the first organizations to try for certification of its complete EHR system without being a pilot project for EACH. Baba said at least four other major university medical centers have contacted him for advice on achieving EACH certification since UNC Healthcare’s certification was announced last week by CCHIT.

To prepare, Baba said his team leaned on Siemens for information. Siemens had achieved certification for its EHR product and UNC Healthcare was using a Siemens EHR component for its nurses.

[Interview: CMS' Jessica Kahn on early EHR, HIE lessons learned.]

UNC Healthcare acquired the CCHIT script and practiced the testing internally before taking the certification test, using a team of in-house IT experts, doctors and nurses as testers.

“The more we practiced, the more the person doing the test became good at it,” Baba said. UNC divided aspects of the test up between eight team members.

Baba said the entire preparation process took six months. UNC will soon be starting the certification process for UNC’s physician practice. He thinks this one will only take two months because of the university’s experience with the process.

Follow Diana Manos on Twitter @DManos_IT_News.