ONC task force solicits information on creating EHR comparison tool

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT's new certified technology comparison task force held both a virtual hearing and a meeting last week, in its goal to create draft recommendations on a tool that can compare electronic health record systems.

According to the task force, the tool could be useful for providers making their first EHR purchase, considering a modular component purchase to meet new health IT needs, and determining what products are in the market to assess further purchases. The task force acknowledged that purchase needs vary by practice size, location, specialty and provider type, and that the tool should be searchable by multiple categories at a time. Existing tools do not include comparisons on cost, interoperability or usability (workflow and safety); the tools also need to provide information beyond what is captured through ONC's certification program.

There also was a concern that EHR vendor "gag clauses" stymie the free exchange of safety, usability and other information about various EHR products.

A number of stakeholders presented testimony at the virtual hearing, many of them physicians. Lori Simon, M.D., a practicing psychiatrist and a member of the American Psychiatric Association's Mental Health Information Technology Committee, pointed out that few EHRs support the needs of mental health providers and that there currently is no tool to guide provider selection in detail. 

Jeffrey Burns, M.D., a family physician in Massachusetts, was a former employed physician and "subject matter expert" when his health system implemented an Epic system. However, when he recently started his own practice, he went through a process to try to determine which EHRs were "top rated" and then which of them might fit his office--whether an out-of-the-box system would be better, whether the EHR should be cloud based--and then conducted demos on his own.

"A tool would have been very helpful in starting my practice," he noted.  

The task force is expected to finalize its recommendations by Jan. 19, and present them to ONC's Health IT Policy and Standards Committees Jan. 20. The study and subsequent report is required by the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act, which tasked the Secretary of HHS with examining the feasibility of establishing mechanisms, such as a website, to help providers compare and select certified EHRs.

To learn more:
- access the hearing presentations
- here are the meeting materials