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CCHIT Names Health IT Veteran To Chair

Dr. Karen Bell has been tapped to lead the Certification Commission for Health IT through a challenging but recharged health IT landscape.
"We've learned to be flexible and that's critical as meaningful use evolve," she said.

Yet at the same time, it's important for CCHIT "to ensure that various health IT also meet the more complex needs of delivery systems, including usability and that the systems are a good value," she said.

CCHIT will also work to ensure that its certification processes are efficient, nimble "and not too costly," she said.

The market atmosphere now for health IT has changed greatly compared to when Bell was involved with the first ONC office lead by Brailer.

During that time, President Bush set a goal for most Americans to have an electronic health record by 2014, but there were no federal mandates or money to help drive that vision into a reality.

The biggest change now is the $20 billion-plus in funding provided by HITECH to incentivize the adoption and meaningful use of health IT.

"I hate to sound pragmatic, but it's the money" that's making the biggest difference to most healthcare providers planning health IT adoption now, Bell said.

While some large healthcare delivery systems, such as Kaiser Permanente, have long been on the quest to improve efficiencies and quality of care through the use of health IT, "by and large most doctors practice in small offices and don't have the ability to move forward," she said.

But that's changing with the HITECH programs, Bell said. Those programs include billions of dollars in financial incentives for using EMRs, dozens of regional extension centers being set up to offer healthcare providers technical assistance for EMR deployments, and financial penalties starting in 2015 for healthcare providers who don't use health IT in meaningful ways. Added together, motivation to adopt health IT has never been greater.

"Physicians will need to make the business decision" to move ahead with these initiatives, either to cash in on rewards or face eventual penalties that weren't in the mix several years ago, prior to the passage of HITECH, she said.

Before accepting the new job at CCHIT, Bell was most recently a senior VP at Masspro, a health IT services firm and the federally-contracted quality improvement organization within Massachusetts.