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A Tale of Two Health IT Codes

by Dan Haley, SVP and General Counsel

The Electronic Health Records Association (EHRA) recently rolled out its EHR Developer Code of Conduct. As both a leading (and the most usable!), cloud-based EHR vendor, and an active member of the EHRA, athenahealth is pleased to see the Association’s code and will absolutely sign on.

But even before the EHRA’s roll-out event, we were getting the obvious question: What does the EHRA Code have to do with athenahealth’s own Health Information Industry Code of Conduct , introduced to the industry back in January?

The answer to that question is: plenty. And no, the two codes aren’t contradictory—they’re complementary. EHR vendors ought to sign on to both.

The EHRA’s four pages (plus five more of FAQs) present 15 broad, unobjectionable principles. athenahealth’s one-page Code sets forth five simple, hard commitments. A careful reader of both will recognize the latter as the thematic skeleton of the former; they deal with essentially the same important subject matter, albeit in markedly different ways.

Many of the EHRA’s provisions offer what might be thought of as sound business principles, applicable to most any service industry: Communicate “accurate information.” Convey “best practices” to clients. Of course, EHR vendors should do this, as well as using “recognized standards and guidelines” to ensure patient safety and promote cross-platform interoperability. An EHR vendor that does not “efficiently and accurately document care provided,” and protect patient privacy will not last long in a highly competitive marketplace.

It is good (or at least not bad) to have a set of positive principles set down on paper and affirmatively agreed to by the members of the leading trade association in our industry. But as I read those principles, the same question kept popping into my head. It’s the same one that Sean Connery’s character in The Untouchables famously spat with his last dying breath into Kevin Costner’s earnestly overacting face: “What… are you… prepared… to DO?!”

athenahealth's Code answers that question, five times. On the issues of data portability and interoperability, signatories to the athenahealth Code commit not only to support the transfer of clinical summaries, but to pay for the transfer of complete, intact, usable data in the event the signatory is fired and a client moves to the EHR of another signatory; and, to build and maintain a reliable interface for any qualified provider who requests one.

On patient safety, signatories commit to affiliate with a Patient Safety Organization within a year of signing. They commit to monitor and flag irregular billing patterns to help clients identify and eliminate potential fraud; and, they commit to keep clients compliant with government standards, including Meaningful Use, at no additional incremental costs.

These are real, hard commitments. No legalese, no out-clauses. And the HIT companies who sign on are right up there, listed on our signatory page with us.

We hope our industry embraces the principles set forth in the EHRA Code. And we hope our industry’s clients and care providers demand an answer to that question: “What are you prepared to DO?!” See (and sign) the athenahealth Code of Conduct.

Check out Dan Haley's Google+ Profile. Follow @DanHaley5 on Twitter.

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