EMR Certification Picture Gets Enlarged

On March 2, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) announced a plan to approve organizations to certify electronic health record software programs. ModernHealthcare.com reported the announcement of this new plan by ONC head, Dr. David Blumenthal, at the big meeting of the Health Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS) occurring in Atlanta this week. The rule being developed will create a system for temporary testing and approval of products that meet the ARRA “meaningful use” criteria as well as a permanent structure for such certification. This is a process for certifying the certifiers.

Since the passage of ARRA last year, there has been rampant speculation about whether the Certification Commission for Health Information Technology (CCHIT) would be the only certifying body approved by HHS. Many who have felt that CCHIT is too closely tied to the large players in the medical EMR community have believed that diversification in the certification community should be a given.

Currently, CCHIT is the only organization designed to certify EMRs. Prior to ARRA, the certification was to a particular set of standards, features and functionalities decided upon by CCHIT as necessary for any electronic medical record program to call itself a player. In the past few months, CCHIT has added an ARRA certification to meet the requirements of “meaningful use” so that providers could qualify for ARRA funds. Unfortunately, the “meaningful use” definition is not yet finalized…and the cost of the ARRA certification is significant.

This cost of certification by CCHIT has been the primary concern for small software vendors. Those of us who have limited financial resources and small development staff have been worried that the fees and methodology of CCHIT would prevent us from obtaining certification for our products. Dr. David Kibbe, senior advisor to the American Academy of Family Physicians Center for Health IT is one of the critics. As reported by Neil Versel at FierceEMR, Dr. Kibbe believes that the cost and complicated nature of the CCHIT certification method stifles innovation and the development of new technologies.

This announcement by ONC may well open the playing field significantly. Whether the stimulus funds are worth the cost to achieve “meaningful use” is a separate issue that eligible providers will need to determine for themselves. Since these incentives are largely aimed at primary care providers, not many behavioral health organizations are likely to be impacted or even eligible for funds. But we must assume that the move toward EMRs in the general medical world will increase the pressure upon behavioral health providers to follow suit.

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