The hope is that certification can help overcome doctors uncertainties about how to evaluate health IT products and to reassure doctors that a system wont become obsolete once it has been purchased.
Despite all the publicity surrounding health IT, fewer than one in five physician offices are estimated to use electronic medical records systems.
CCHIT Chairman Mark Leavitt said that more than two dozen products had been submitted to the certification process, and that some were still undergoing testing. He declined to name vendors whose products applied for but did not receive certification.
The first products to be certified are all designed to be used in doctors offices. Though most health care is delivered in doctors offices, these groups have been slower than hospitals in adopting information technology.
Michael Leavitt, Secretary of Health and Human Services, spoke at the announcement, saying that his presence indicated how important the certification program was.
"This is a big day," he said. "This is undoubtedly the most important thing that is happening in health IT."
Eventually, he said, the federal government would only do business with health care providers who use information systems that have been certified as interoperable.
CCHIT was formed in 2004 by three industry associations, the American Health Information Management Association, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, and The National Alliance for Health Information Technology.
Last year, HHS awarded the organization nearly $3 million to develop a process to certify outpatient and hospital health records.
Flash Gordon, a primary-care doctor in Greenbrae, Calif., said that the certification system was a good idea.
"The thing that may be holding docs back [from adopting EHR systems] is the fear that they are going to invest time and money, and then find out that the data is useless."
But he said that certification reduces only a minor barrier and does nothing to reduce the cost and complexity of getting an EHR up and running.
Greg Wenneson, technical project manager for a consortium of rural community health centers in Northern California, said he foresaw little short-term impact of the certification system.
Thats because the rural clinics dont foresee using full-scale EHRs in the near future, so the software they use isnt eligible for certification.
However, he said the system could be useful over the long term because it would ensure a standard set of functionalities.
Some open-source and smaller companies have criticized the certification process, which costs $28,000 as favoring larger, well-capitalized companies with sufficient staff to build required functionalities.
CCHIT indirectly addressed this criticism, saying he was pleased that products from several smaller companies had received certification.
However, the bigger problem is that primary care doctors say they cant afford to buy or maintain EHR systems, particularly when slow systems limit the number of patients they can see a day.
"The people who will be saving money will be the insurance companies. The only people who are going to pay anything for it are the docs, and primary care docs are struggling," said Gordon.
HHS secretary Leavitt acknowledged the problem. "Those expected to make the investment are not the ones expected to reap the benefit," he said. "That dilemma is something that the system has to face."
At the same time, he said, a certification system was a "first step on a long, long path" to widespread use of health IT. "It gives health care providers peace of mind to know they are purchasing a product that is functional, and interoperable and will bring higher quality, safer care to patients."
The following is a list of systems receiving certification:
- Allscripts Healthcare Solutions (HealthMatics Electronic Health Record 2006)
- Allscripts Healthcare Solutions (TouchWorks Electronic Health Record 10.1.1)
- Cerner Corp. (PowerChart 2005.02)
- Companion Technologies Corp. (Companion EMR v8.5)
- eClinicalWorks (eClinicalWorks Version 7.0 Release 2)
- Emdeon Practice Services (Intergy EHR v3.00)
- e-MDs (e-MDs Solution Series 6.1)
- Epic Systems Corp. (EpicCare Ambulatory EMR Spring 2006)
- GE Healthcare (Centricity EMR 2005 Version 6.0)
- JMJ Technologies (EncounterPRO EHR 5.0)
- McKesson Corp. (Horizon Ambulatory Care Version 9.4)
- MCS-Medical Communication Systems (mMD.Net EHR 9.0.9)
- MedcomSoft (Record 2006 (V 3.0))
- Medical Informatics Engineering (WebChart 4.23)
- Misys Healthcare Systems (Misys EMR 8.0)
- NextGen Healthcare Information Systems (NextGen EMR 5.3)
- Nightingale Informatix Corp. (myNightingale Physician Workstation 5.1)
- Practice Partner (Patient Records 9)
The following were listed as receiving "conditional pre-market certification":
- Community Computer Service (MEDENT 16)
- LSS Data Systems (Medical Practice Management (MPM) Client/Server 5.5 Service Release 2.1)