Maybe it's just me, but I wonder if this is an indication that we've set the bar too low. Don't get me wrong -- the CCHIT is driven by people who are way smarter than me on this stuff, and they're doing excellent work. And clearly, the market has suffered from a lack of standardization.
Yet, I had expected (perhaps naively) that CCHIT certification would help drive an industry shakeout. But as I see the numbers and scan the list of vendors who've made the grade, that's looking less likely (go here to judge for yourself). Rather, this is looking more and more like the type of ubiquitous certification - UL and Good Housekeeping come to mind -- that provides a broad level of comfort around very basic criteria that define minimum capability, but don't do much to separate the wheat from the chaff.
There is an argument that the UL-type of very basic standardization is market-expanding (and therefore, good). In markets where consumers have a hard time distinguishing among products on their own (due to product complexity, for example), strong brands will dominate unless other sources of trusted information or assurance are available. For example, I can't tell whether the wiring in my toaster is safe, but the UL label assures me that it's been built according to standards that minimize safety risks -- a valuable assurance that we've come to take for granted in the US and Europe. (I lived in India for awhile where, after a few good electric shocks, I learned to appreciate the safety that this type of certification provides.)
A recent Business Week article argues that CCHIT's approach to this type of market-expanding certification is changing the EHR industry:
EHRs require hardware, software, databases, networks, and, at their most advanced, picture archives of radiology and pathology images. Specialized health-care IT vendors such as Cerner, McKesson, Eclipsys, and Allscripts previously sought to establish widespread EHR networks, with limited success. The new federal government initiatives are reinvigorating the field.
Even as these companies renew their efforts to tap the market, they face increasing competition from deep-pocketed first-time entrants. These include the world's top three diagnostic imaging companies, Siemens , General Electric, and Philips Medical Systems, a unit of Philips Electronics.
It's a tempting argument -- but I think it's wrong. The BW article doesn't recognize that the ambulatory EHR market is different than the hospital market, in part because BW has the usual biz pub bias toward reporting on publicly-traded companies. (I especially like their claim that GE is new to the EHR field.)
Of course, there is value in ubiquitous, trusted certification. However, when it goes too far it undermines its own raison d'etre. Neighborhood Watch signs are a good example. These signs are everywhere, which suggests that they have no effect whatsoever. I'm guessing that once every neighborhood got "certified", it just brought everyone back to square one on crime, because the signs were no longer effective tools for distinguishing one neighborhood from another.
In my view the biggest problem in the EHR market isn't that there are too few entrants, but rather, it's that there are too many. There are over 200 EHR companies in the country today, most of them privately-held; pruning, not fertilizing, is what the market needs to grow. A certification process that gives everyone a seal of approval won't solve that problem.