This is a quick blog post to note that CCHIT, the Certification Commission for Health Information Technology, today announced the availability of the first-ever certification program for oncology electronic health records (EHRs). This is a major step toward standardizing the functional requirements for health IT that are specific to the specialty of oncology, and more importantly for defining how EHRs should be used to improve the safety and quality of cancer care. The CCHIT Oncology Workgroup, which was appointed in 2010, is heavily infiltrated with ASCO volunteers, including four members of ASCO’s Health Information Technology Workgroup, and it was ably co-chaired by ASCO Board member Dr. Peter Yu. CCHIT is a 501(c)3 organization chartered in Illinois, which was originally under contract to HHS for the first EHR certifications in 2006 but now is a private company devoted to the creation and implementation of certification programs for EHRs of varying domains and specialties.
The CCHIT certification program is separate from “meaningful use” certification, with the latter being a Federally-defined requirement for eligible providers or hospitals to receive incentive payments for EHR adoption and use. Although CCHIT happens to be one of the six organizations called ONC-ATCB's (Office of the National Coordinator Authorized Testing and Certification Bodies) recognized by the government for meaningful use, its older native certification programs – and this new one in oncology is similar – are much more rigorous and detailed than meaningful use requirements, since these criteria are defined by panels of subject matter experts through an iterative, consensus-based process, open to public comment, and by definition are deeper and more comprehensive than the 20 requirements for Stage I meaningful use. The CCHIT oncology certification is a subset, or “add-on” to CCHIT’s ambulatory certification, so the EHR must meet that test first. The way it works is that a vendor applies to CCHIT for certification, pays a fee, and then their product goes through formal testing by an independent panel of EHR experts, to see if the EHR can truly perform all of the functions. It is interesting to note that to pass, a product must meet 100% of the criteria, so it’s all or nothing. You can see the specific oncology test criteria here.
The final criteria chosen for oncology certification were derived in part from prior work that ASCO had done in collaboration with the National Cancer Institute on functional requirements and the Oncology Nursing Society on chemo administration safety standards. The primary emphasis was on patient safety through the chemotherapy administration process and capture of structured data. The program formally launches on June 2, 2011, and after that, hopefully oncology EHR vendors will step up to the plate, pay their money, and go through the certification process. The winner in all of this is the purchaser – i.e., physician practices – who will then know, if they buy a certified product, that an independent body has verified the functionality that the EHR vendor claims is present.
Hat tip also to CCHIT for releasing EHR certification for clinical research today as well, with involvement by some of the ASCO usual suspects, including co-chair Dr. Larry Shulman.