Jodi G. DanielAshley N. Southerland

Earlier this month, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) released a report to Congress on the feasibility of creating tools to help providers compare and select certified health IT products. As part of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA), Congress required ONC to conduct a study to examine the feasibility of establishing mechanisms to assist providers in comparing and selecting certified EHR technology products. Congress suggested that ONC consider mechanisms like establishing a website of aggregated survey results that would allow meaningful EHR users to directly compare the functionality of certified health IT products. Congress also suggested compiling information from vendors of certified health IT products, and making that information publicly available in a standardized format.

In response to its Congressional directive, and drawing upon recommendations from the Certified Technology Comparison (CTC) Task Force, public input, and its own market analysis, ONC’s report focused on two subgroups of the health care community – providers and comparison tool developers – and identified specific problem areas in the comparison tool marketplace. Ultimately, the report proposed four mechanisms to improve the health IT comparison marketplace:

  1. providing targeted technical assistance;
  2. improving awareness of the comparison tool marketplace and available comparison resources;
  3. collecting and sharing information about certified health IT to improve the comparison tools themselves; and
  4. collaborating with key stakeholders and comparison tool developers.

The ONC report also outlined the resources necessary to make the four mechanisms a reality. ONC identified the need for government-wide support (from the Department of Health and Human Services and other government programs), as well as critical private sector support, in order to spur the creation of comparison tools and their content, website development, subject matter expert support, outreach to providers, outreach to developers, and program management, among others.  ONC, for its part, pledged to release an updated, “open data” version of its Certified HIT Product List (CHPL) in Spring 2016.  The open data CHPL will provide a more robust and easily-searchable database of certified health IT products.  ONC also committed to publish an online “Health IT Playbook” in Fall 2016, which will include provider tips for effective data use, implementing and optimizing certified health IT products, and transitioning to alternative payment models.

While the report identified efforts to improve provider awareness of currently-available comparison tools, as well as efforts to make health IT information more publicly available, the report falls short on examining the feasibility of establishing tools to assist providers in comparing and selecting certified EHR technology products. Instead, the report assumes current EHR comparison tools are sufficient (with some improvements) and focuses on how to make them better while offering more education to providers. It does not suggest or evaluate alternative EHR comparison tools that would make side-by-side health IT product comparisons easier and more effective for users.

Stay tuned for Congress’s response.