AMIA '09: CCHIT moves into usability testing, critics ask for simpler process

Suddenly faced with the prospect of competition for the first time, the Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology is responding to long-held criticisms that its certification programs only test EMR functionality and not usability. "We're getting our feet wet in usability testing in the comprehensive certification," CCHIT Chairman Dr. Mark Leavitt said Monday in San Francisco at the annual American Medical Informatics Association symposium. As previously announced, CCHIT is running three new certification programs: a comprehensive testing protocol; one that promises to help EMR customers meet forthcoming "meaningful use" requirements for the federal subsidy program; and a third that certifies home-grown systems.

His statements preceded a CCHIT announcement on Tuesday that the commission had opened a public comment period through Dec. 11 on the 2011 certification program.

The pronouncements by Leavitt, who has announced his intention to retire from CCHIT at the end of March, did little to dissuade critics of the process--even those who shared the podium with him during an AMIA session. "What we need is clarity," said Dr. Mark Dente, vice president of healthcare solutions at vendor GE Healthcare. "We need consistency of direction." Dente said GE has 12 full-time staffers working on standards and certification across its vast product line, and said he can't imagine how much development time smaller vendors may have lost trying to meet EMR certification standards.

Dr. William Stead, CIO of Vanderbilt University Medical Center, recommended a "minimalist approach" to certification. "We've got to make sure that we do not freeze workflow," the longtime medical informatics expert said. "The most important thing should be the ability to separate data from our systems," Stead added, referring to the facilitation of health information exchange.

In defense of CCHIT, Dr. David Bates, medical director of clinical and quality analysis for information systems at Partners HealthCare System in Boston, said he considered the possibility of multiple certifiers "a rather frightening prospect." Bates worried about a "race to the bottom" if vendors started building their products to the "least common denominator" of each certification point.

For more information:
- read this CCHIT press release on the public comment period