CMS releases initial electronic health record version

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released an evaluation version of the VistA-Office electronic health record to assess its effectiveness in private physicians’ offices. VistA-Office is an adaptation of the Veterans Affairs Department’s electronic health record technology.

CMS will evaluate it for usability, effectiveness, implementation and potential for capabilities to communicate, exchange and use data with other systems and software. This release will allow for the evaluation of VistA-Office EHR in physicians’ offices, with particular attention to whether and how they can implement the software effectively.

“The release of an evaluation version of VistA-Office will provide a testing laboratory for interoperability and will supplement efforts by the American Health Information Community [AHIC] to establish a certification criteria and process,” CMS administrator Mark McClellan said yesterday.

When fully realized, EHR software will help physicians improve health care quality while avoiding unnecessary costs.

The evaluation will take place while the public-private AHIC, which Health and Human Services secretary Mike Leavitt leads, considers approaches for certifying interoperability and functional capabilities of electronic health records systems.

A certification process will identify standards and minimum requirements to enable EHR systems to share important data across settings of care and perform the most important functions of an electronic health record system while maintaining privacy and security of data. Electronic health records that become certified and that can enable the reporting of quality measures will support CMS quality improvement goals. These systems will also help achieve a national goal of widespread adoption of interoperable EHRs within 10 years.

The VistA-Office evaluation software is not free. There is a small fee for obtaining the software on computer disk and licensing and support fees for the database program and codes. The added office staff cost associated with the implementation of an electronic health record will also play a part in physicians' decisions to adopt and test VistA-Office.

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