Critics charge HIMSS-CCHIT connection 'too cozy'

By Neil Versel
12:57 PM

The discovery that the Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology (CCHIT) had lost its corporate standing has unleashed a storm of criticisms and false accusations on the Internet and has the organization fighting to protect its reputation.

A Feb. 13 comment on the Wall Street Journal Health Blog revealed that State of Illinois records listed CCHIT, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit Illinois corporation, as “involuntarily dissolved” as of April 11, 2008.

Though the long, rambling screed by an anonymous commenter contained numerous fallacies, a search of Illinois Secretary of State records in mid-February confirmed that Chicago-based CCHIT indeed had been dissolved. CCHIT corrected the problem, and the record now is listed as “active,” with a Feb. 17 filing date for annual reports.

CCHIT Marketing Director C. Sue Reber blames the involuntary dissolution on an “administrative error,” namely the failure of an attorney for CCHIT to file an annual report with state authorities. “It’s been remedied,” Reber says.

But that was just the tip of the iceberg for the online critics, who posted comments on numerous blogs, some using names that could not be confirmed as real. One pseudonymous writer called CCHIT a “scheme” by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) to escape taxes on millions of dollars supposedly pouring into both not-for-profit organizations.

Mark LeavittIn his comment, the writer referred to a “revolving door” for personnel between HIMSS, CCHIT and other organizations, noting that CCHIT Chairman Mark Leavitt, MD, once was chief medical officer of HIMSS, but wrongly claiming that Leavitt was still on the HIMSS payroll.

Reber denies those allegations. Although HIMSS, the National Alliance for Health Information Technology (NAHIT) and the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), created CCHIT in 2004 and provided some seed money, the commission is an independent entity. CCHIT has operated under a three-year, $7.5 million contract from the Department of Health and Human Services awarded in October 2005, and with revenues from testing fees. The HHS contract has been extended through April and may be in line for another extension, Reber says, in light of the federal stimulus package that includes $19 billion for healthcare IT.

Regardless of the corporate independence, some critics worry that the makeup of CCHIT’s board of trustees and board of commissioners creates serious conflicts of interest and leads to discrimination against small healthcare IT vendors. The trustees, who provide fiscal oversight and corporate governance, are chaired by AHIMA CEO Linda Kloss and include HIMSS President and CEO H. Stephen Lieber as well as a major vendor executive, Glen Tullman of Allscripts-Misys Healthcare Solutions. Representatives of several major vendors sit on the 21-member board of commissioners, which is responsible for setting testing criteria.

Scot Silverstein, MD, an instructor in biomedical informatics at Drexel University in Philadelphia, says no one with a financial interest in CCHIT’s work should sit on either board. “Even the appearance of a conflict destroys credibility,” according to Silverstein. “There’s plenty of people out there with no industry connections whatsoever who are qualified to evaluate technology,” he says.

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