EHR Vendors Unite for Interoperability

Twenty-one vendors of electronic health records form an alliance to figure out how to make systems interoperable and to encourage physicians to adopt the technology.

Twenty-one vendors of EHRs (electronic health records) have banded together to figure out how to make systems interoperable and to encourage physicians, particularly in ambulatory settings, to adopt the technology.

The associations greatest potential is to "remove impediments that currently sit in front of customers," said Jonathan Javitt, chairman of the health subcommittee of the presidents IT Advisory Committee. To do so, he said, the group needs to convince purchasers that they face little risk of getting stuck with incompatible systems.

"The lack of interoperability has become a barrier to purchasing decisions," said Pat Wise, director of EHR initiatives at HIMSS (Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society).

But she added that the group will work simultaneously on reducing common barriers to adoption, including lack of interoperability, funding issues and physicians reluctance to use new systems.

After all, she said, finding ways for physicians to pay for health IT is intimately connected with how strongly physicians want to use IT, which depends, at least partly, on physicians concerns that systems wont work together.

Javitt said EHR vendors also have the potential to raise demand for their project by increasing awareness of electronic health records. But he said the industry has underinvested in the research and development necessary to make EHR more useful.

"When you put work-saving and time-saving in the doctors hands, you dont have to push for adoption," he said. "Theyll pay almost anything to recapture some minutes, and theyll oppose you with all of their might if you take more of their time for functions that dont directly benefit patients."

Though he has advisory and leadership positions in some EHR companies, Javitt, a Fellow, Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, is not actively involved with the EHR the association, which will operate within HIMSS (Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society), a nonprofit organization founded in 1961 that helps develop health IT policy and standards.

Wise said vendors approached HIMSS about forming a group because they wanted to communicate with other stakeholders collectively. She compared the vendor association with groups such as AMA (American Medical Association), and said that several organizations speaking with "one voice" could send a stronger message than could individual organizations, even if each had about the same message. Such unity, she said, would help different groups—health care providers, payers and vendors—work together effectively.

In particular, Wise said the vendors "have to work with the payers" such as Medicare and insurance companies. "The payers most benefit from IT adoption. The payer needs to return some of that benefit in a way that helps to defray the costs to the physicians," she said.

While HIMSS provides infrastructure and logistical support to the EHR Vendor Association, it is a free-standing trade association and may take different positions on issues than does the larger organization, Wise said.

But the vendor association will guide HIMSS in setting official positions on EHR issues and also will give feedback on the certification process being developed by CCHIT (Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology), another HIMSS group formed this fall.

Wise said she expects the vendors association to be active, meeting by teleconference at least once a month.

H. Stephen Lieber, president and CEO of HIMSS, said widespread adoption of EHR "demands collective involvement and expertise from private-sector companies." The Office of the National Health Information Technology Coordinator also has said private efforts will be key to promoting widespread adoption of integrated EHRs.

Earlier this year, several e-prescribing companies joined together in a group called CafeRx.

While e-prescribing systems have repeatedly been described as an easy first step toward EHRs, only one company, Allscripts Healthcare Solutions, belongs to both organizations.

Heres a directory of the founding members of the HIMSS Vendor Group:


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