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ONC Releases Guide, Playbook to Support Physician EHR Use

ONC has published two guides aimed at supporting physicians entering a new EHR contract and boosting effective physician EHR use.

By Sara Heath

As a part of National Health IT Week, ONC has released two learning materials to help providers with EHR implementation and use, according to a public statement.

The agency issued an EHR contract guide — EHR Contracts Untangled: Selecting Wisely, Negotiating Terms, and Understanding the Fine Print — targeting practice leaders looking to better understand new EHR contracts and assist in negotiations.

“From the small practice manager exploring new cloud-based EHR products and services, to the CIO contemplating a major EHR procurement, making the right choice for a practice — and advancing interoperability — hinges on having reliable, easy-to-understand information,” wrote CMS Acting Administrator Andy Slavitt and ONC National Coordinator Vindell Washington, MD, in a joint post on HealthITBuzz.

EHR contracts often contain technical and legal jargon that is difficult to understand, and this confusing language can cause practice leaders to unknowingly enter into a contract with an EHR vendor that includes data blocking or other actions that limit effective EHR use.

“One way that blocking occurs and prevents data from moving to follow the needs of the patient doesn’t involve the technology itself, but the business practices that can prevent interoperability,” Slavitt and Washington explained. “This subtle form of data blocking can occur through language and terms found in contracts for EHRs and other health information technologies.”

The EHR contract guide will help hospital and practice leaders identify data blocking practices in their EHR contracts, helping them to negotiate them out or determine when to seek another deal.

“The guide offers specific strategies to help providers as they plan for the purchase of an EHR system and negotiate key terms with their EHR vendors,” the pair wrote. “In short, this guide helps hospitals and doctors cut through the clutter, and assists them in implementing a new EHR system in a way that supports their workflow and their patients.”

Other topic areas include:

  • The critical planning steps that all providers should take to properly understand and communicate their requirements to potential EHR vendors;
  • Contracting practices and negotiation strategies that providers can use to achieve fairer and more balanced EHR contracts;
  • Legal rights and obligations that providers may wish to include in their EHR contracts – as well as those they may wish to avoid; and
  • Practical pointers and example contract terms that illustrate how providers might implement more favorable terms in their EHR contract.

The ONC Health IT Playbook will assist with EHR implementation and EHR use. The web-based resource will provide key strategies for providers to ensure they are getting the most out of their technologies, added ONC Chief Medical Officer Thomas A. Mason, MD, and Lauren Richie, MA, ONC Director of Learning and Engagement Division, in a separate blog post.

Although EHR adoption is widespread, the pair wrote, providers are still struggling to effectively put the technology to use by identifying best practices and valuable functionality. The Health IT Playbook aims to alleviate these challenges by offering materials such as the above mentioned EHR contract guide, an interactive map identifying funding opportunities, and security information about HIPAA and EHR use.

The Playbook also includes case studies and success stories to show users how health IT can impact a real practice. These case studies run the gamut of researching tools, switching EHRs, and adjusting clinical workflows.

Overall, the Playbook covers the following subject areas:

  • Identifies and shares leading practices and success stories around various phases of EHR and health IT implementation;
  • Provides information about how providers can resolve key issues and challenges related to optimizing health IT and tailoring it to their workflow;
  • Provides specific illustrations on how laws such as the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy and Security Rule support the exchange of electronic health information for care planning, quality measurement and improvement, and other operations; and
  • Serves as a central resource for health care providers and health IT professionals when seeking guidance on using the most up-to-date technologies and processes to support patient care and help their offices function efficiently.

According to Mason and Richie, ONC will continuously update the online Playbook, theoretically making it applicable even amidst a growing and shifting health IT landscape.

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