CMS tests e-records system for use by physicians

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has finally released the much anticipated beta version of its VistA-Office software, which it hopes will push physicians to adopt electronic health records.

CMS adapted VistA-Office from the Veterans Affairs Department's electronic health record technology.

The Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture program is an electronic medical-records and clinical-care system used throughout VA's 1,300 medical facilities.

The pilot will allow for evaluation of whether physicians implement the software and how effectively they use it. When fully realized, electronic health record software promises to help physicians improve health care quality while reducing costs.

'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 to establish a certification criteria and process,' CMS Administrator Mark McClellan said in a statement last week. CMS is an agency of the Health and Human Services Department.

CMS will test the electronic health record over the next six to 12 months, said Cynthia Wark, deputy director of the information system group in CMS' Office of Clinical Standards and Quality.

At the same time, the American Health Information Community, a public/private collaborative group led by HHS secretary Mike Leavitt, will decide on standards for interoperability and a process to certify the functional capabilities of electronic health records systems.

A certification process will identify standards and minimum requirements to allow electronic health record systems to share patient data across settings of care while maintaining privacy and security of the data.

The modified VistA-Office software retains existing VistA functions for computerized physician order entry, documentation templates and clinical reminders, and is enhanced with other functions, including patient registration at physicians' offices, reporting of quality measures, and printing/faxing of prescriptions.

VistA-Office software will cost about $37 for reproduction and shipping, in addition to fees for coding and database licenses, Wark said. The added costs associated with the implementation of an electronic health record will also play a part in physicians' decisions to adopt and test VistA-Office. Physicians will generally need vendor support for installation, configuration and maintenance.

CMS has funded a VistA-Office vendor support organization, WorldVistA, to provide training for vendors. The testing period will also evaluate vendor services.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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