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eClinicalWorks saga includes a whistleblower, a false front and kickbacks galore

Providers who use eClinicalWorks and thought something was a bit off about the electronic health record's (EHR's) performance may feel vindicated by this news: The EHR vendor will pay $155 million and enter a corporate integrity agreement to settle a number of allegations, including that for several years it had lied about the platform’s capabilities so it could receive meaningful use certification.
The case was initially brought by Brendan Delaney, a former software developer for the company. He'll receive approximately $30 million of the settlement.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) alleged that in some instances, the vendor took steps to make it appear that the software met certification requirements. For example, the program should have had the ability to retrieve any drug code from a complete database. eClinicalWorks entered codes for the 16 drugs that would be checked during certification testing on its software, so that it looked like that function worked.
In addition, the government alleged that the software did not record all actions in the audit log, did not meet portability requirements that allowed users to transfer patient information from eClinicalWorks’ software to another vendor's and in some instances did not record orders for diagnostic imaging or conduct drug interaction checks.
“As a result of these and other deficiencies in its software, ECW [eClinicalWorks] caused the submission of false claims for federal incentive payments based on the use of ECW’s software,” the DOJ stated in the May 31 announcement about the settlement.
But that’s not all. The settlement also covered allegations that it violated the anti-kickback statute by paying customers who served as a secondary sales force for the company. According to the DOJ’s complaint-in-intervention, kickbacks ranged from paying users each time someone they referred to the company signed a contract with eClinicalWorks, to a physician who was paid “tens of thousands of dollars in ‘consulting’ fees while sourcing many new customers” for the company. That deal contained two classic warning signs of a kickback scheme: The doctor did not have a contract with the vendor and he did not keep track of the hours he worked for the vendor. What may make this case unique is that it involves payments from a software vendor, rather than a manufacturer such as a pharmaceutical company, or another provider such as a nursing home.
As a result, “requests for incentive payments that resulted from unlawful kickbacks constituted false claims,” the DOJ stated.  
Does this mean providers now need to return their incentive payments or drop their eClinicalWorks system like it is hot? We’re working on the answers to those and other questions about how the case will impact providers right now. In the meantime, we'd like to hear from eClinicalWorks clients. What questions do you have? Do you plan to stay with eClinicalWorks or will you take advantage of the get-out-of-contract free card that is part of the corporate integrity agreement? Drop us a line in the comments.
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