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EHR contract guide and Health IT Playbook help clinicians and hospitals get the most out of health information technology

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) today released two practical, easy-to-understand tools to help health care providers get the most out of their health information technology (health IT), such as electronic health records (EHRs): an EHR contract guide – PDF and a newly expanded Health IT Playbook.

The new contract guide, EHR Contracts Untangled: Selecting Wisely, Negotiating Terms, and Understanding the Fine Print, explains important concepts in EHR contracts and includes example contract language to help providers and health administrators in planning to acquire an EHR system and negotiating contract terms with vendors. The Health IT Playbook is a dynamic, web-based tool intended to make it easy for providers and their practices to find practical information and guidance on specific topics as they research, buy, use, or switch EHRs.

“I know from my experiences practicing emergency medicine and managing information technology for a health system how helpful practical tools can be for clinicians and health care administrators as they navigate the purchase and use of health IT,” said B. Vindell Washington, M.D., M.H.C.M., national coordinator for health information technology. “The EHR contract guide and the Health IT Playbook incorporate feedback we have heard from the provider community about the need for clear, reliable information about EHR contracts and user-friendly, specific tools for how to get the most out of health IT to better manage patient health and care.”

Today’s announcements – and ONC’s work to improve data flow among providers and patients – supports the Administration’s efforts to transform and improve the health care delivery system.  Ensuring patient data is available to clinicians – and patients – when and where it is needed can improve coordination among providers, prevent duplicative appointments or diagnostic tests, and decrease costs to patients and the overall health care system.

EHR Contracts Untangled: Selecting Wisely, Negotiating Terms, and Understanding the Fine Print

ONC designed the EHR contract guide to equip providers and administrators with reliable information to better navigate the sometimes daunting process of the planning and acquisition of an EHR system, whether for the first time or because they are upgrading or replacing existing technology.

While the guide focuses on the acquisition of EHR systems, many of the concepts and examples may also apply to other types of health IT products. It is designed to help buyers of health IT better understand and communicate their requirements to potential vendors, negotiate appropriate contract terms, and consider and manage the risks that may arise in the purchase, implementation, and use of an EHR.

The guide helps to identify key rights and vendor obligations that providers may wish to include in their EHR contracts—as well as terms and provisions they may wish to avoid. In response to feedback ONC has received from the provider community, the EHR contract guide also addresses concerns such as managing safety and security risks, ensuring the availability and integrity of data in a wide variety of circumstances, including scenarios that a provider may not have expected, ensuring fair, functional procedures for providers and vendors in the event that things go wrong or disagreements arise, and being able to switch EHRs if needed. While the guide translates legal and contract terms into easy-to-understand language, it should not be construed as legal advice and does not address all possible legal or other issues that may arise in EHR transactions. ONC previously released a guide explaining key EHR contract terms in 2013 – PDF.

Health IT Playbook

Many providers and professional associations have told ONC that it can be difficult for clinicians in the field to navigate their EHRs and other health IT when delivering patient care. The Health IT Playbook – a dynamic, online tool that builds on the Patient Engagement Playbook for providers that launched earlier this year – features an evolving collection of specific, user-friendly tools, resources, and guides that can help providers implement and use health IT in a way that best serves their practices, including supporting transitions toward alternative payment models. 

In addition, the Playbook:

  • 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.

As part of National Health IT Week, ONC will be hosting a public webinar to demo the Health IT Playbook at 2:00 p.m. Friday, September 30, 2016. Register here.

The EHR contract guide and Health IT Playbook can be found at