EHR Certification Suits Capture Attention Of Congress, Regulators

As we reported last week, it’s come to light that whistleblowers have filed suit against Community Health Systems and its EHR vendor Medhost, in a complaint which claims that the for-profit hospital giant attested to meaningful use compliance despite knowing the EHR system didn’t meet certification standards.

This is the latest in a string of legal challenges involving claims that EHR vendors provided allegedly certified EHRs which actually weren’t truly certification-worthy.

Last month, Greenway Health agreed to pay the US Department of Justice a $57 million fine to settle allegations that it falsely obtained its 2014 and 2011 federal certification. Previously, in mid-2017, eClinicalWorks agreed to pay $155 million to settle charges that it had falsely obtained its certification.

Now, it seems that folks on the Hill are starting to think about whether ONC is doing a good job of supervising the current incentive program, Promoting Interoperability. According to Modern Healthcare, Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) has written a letter to ONC head Dr. Don Rucker asking some questions about how the agency enforces incentive rules.

In the letter, Banks asks for details on how current efforts to verify provider compliance with the Promoting Interoperability initiative differ from the original Meaningful Use program.

Within the same letter, he cites the CHS lawsuit specifically, asking whether ONC had inspected or verified CHS’ attestations that it was using a certified EHR, and if so what information the agency had collected. “If proven, [the CHS] allegations represent not just a misuse of Promoting Interoperability but a situation in which an EHR implementation was made worse,” said Banks, somewhat snidely but accurately nonetheless.

Unfortunately, Banks is unlikely to be the last critic to ask tough questions about the certification, attestation, and incentives distribution process. From this point on, providers and vendors may be given far less latitude than they have been. After all, while one problem is a problem, and two perhaps a coincidence, three visible challenges to the integrity of federal incentive programs is kind of an attention-getter.

Given this reality, it would probably be a good idea for providers to decide how they’ll defend their attestations, and more broadly their integrity. Nobody wants to see providers take on massive new documentation burdens, necessarily, but over the short term Banks and his colleagues aren’t going to be reassured too easily.

And if you’re an EHR vendor, you can expect to be in the hot seat for the next several months at least, and that may be far too conservative an estimate. If I were you I’d have some frank conversations with customers as to how you can reassure them that you, at least, actually deserve whatever certifications you advertise. If you don’t, you may not stay in business long enough for members of Congress to call you out.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.