Skip to main content

Advanced Search

Advanced Search

Current Filters

Filter your query

Publication Types



Newsletter Article


Moving Closer to Electronic Records for All

By Mary Agnes Carey, CQ HealthBeat Associate Editor

July 18, 2006 -- The nation's health care system moved a step closer on Tuesday to electronic health care records becoming standard operating procedure for patients and their health care providers.

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Michael O. Leavitt announced a list of ambulatory, or outpatient, electronic health record systems that have been approved by a federally sanctioned panel charged with setting standards for such products. The Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology's seal of approval will give 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," Leavitt said in a statement.

President Bush and many lawmakers on Capitol Hill have said electronic medical records will reduce health care costs and improve patient care. Bush has said he wants most Americans to have an electronic medical record within 10 years. Having federal health care programs—the largest purchasers of health care services—adhere to a specific set of standards for sharing medical data might spur the private sector to follow.

But some physicians, hospitals, and other providers have been reluctant to invest in electronic health record (EHR) systems, fearing the technology will become outdated and unable to share information with other providers, the essence of "interoperability" that advocates say can reduce paperwork and shave billions off of health care costs.

"Those who are expected to make the investment do not always reap the financial benefit," Leavitt acknowledged during a news conference at George Washington University's Medical Faculty Associates, which adopted an EHR system last year. Leavitt and other speakers sought to assure providers that taking a similar step will save money in the long run. Stephen L. Badger, chief executive officer of the facility, said installing an EHR has eliminated more than $1 million in staff costs and freed up more than 5,100 square feet of space formally designated for paper medical records.

In a statement, American Medical Association Executive Vice President Michael D. Maves said the list of certified vendors is "invaluable" for physicians who must consider several factors such as cost, interoperability, and ease of use when purchasing an EHR system.

Leavitt said HHS would soon publish rules creating exceptions to anti-kickback statutes and safe harbor, and physician self-referral laws, which would allow certain donations of health information technology that might not have been permitted before. Those new rules would allow hospitals and other health care providers and suppliers to take a more active role in contributing to health information technology adoption, Leavitt said.

Eighteen products were certified for use Tuesday while two were still being tested, and other products could be approved later this month, said Mark Leavitt, chairman of the certification commission but no relation to HHS' Leavitt. Mark Leavitt said the panel will certify "health IT" products in three initial phases: the outpatient, or ambulatory electronic records that were released Tuesday; inpatient record certification planned for 2007; and certification of the networks through which records are shared planned for 2008.

Last year, HHS awarded a $2.7 million contract to the panel, a private nonprofit organization, to develop certification standards for health IT products.

But privacy experts have expressed some concerns about EHRs' ability to protect personal data. Dr. Deborah Peel, founder and chairwoman of Patient Privacy Rights, said in May that while her organization sees the merits of EHRs, "they'll only be realized if patients really, really trust that only the people they want to know about them do." Peel also said legislation governing such records should include elements such as audit trails for disclosures and meaningful criminal penalties.

Publication Details