Electronic Health Records

Adoption & Implementation News

Is ONC EHR Certification Headed in the Wrong Direction?

By Kyle Murphy, PhD

Amidst the tumult of healthcare organizations and providers seeking further changes to the EHR Incentive Programs, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) is pressing forward with its plans for 2014 Edition EHR certification criteria.

In a friendly reminder earlier this week, the federal agency sought public comment on its 2014 Edition Release (née “Voluntary 2015 Edition”) test procedures, a period which closes this Friday. In September, the ONC shifted gears and opted against its proposed EHR certification for 2015.

The federal agency revealed plans incorporate components of a revised 2014 Edition EHR certification criteria to be known as either “2014 Edition Release 2″ or “2014 Edition Release 2 EHR certification criteria” as part of a recent final rule published in the Federal Register.

“This final rule reflects ONC’s commitment to continually improve the certification program and respond to stakeholder feedback. It provides more choices for health IT developers and their customers, including new interoperable ways to securely exchange health information,” National Coordinator Karen DeSalvo, MD, MPH, MSc, said at the time. “It also serves as a model for ONC to update its rules as technology and standards evolve to support innovation.”

All this news, however, comes at a time when one of the ONC’s most important health IT certification organizations concluded its work with the federal agency. Last week, the Certification Commission for Health Information Technology (CCHIT) ceased all health IT certification operations after ten years of service to the health IT community.

“For the past decade CCHIT has been the leader in certification services, supported by our loyal volunteers, the contribution of our boards of trustees and commissioners, and our dedicated staff,” CCHIT Executive Director Alisa Ray said in a public statement. “We have worked effectively in the private and public sectors to advance our mission of accelerating the adoption of robust, interoperable health information technology. We have served hundreds of health IT developers and provided valuable education to our healthcare provider stakeholders.”

And the rationale behind the decision? According to Ray, it was ONC’s approach to 2014 Edition certification and future certification regulations:

Though CCHIT attained self-sustainability as a private independent certification body and continued to thrive as an authorized ONC testing and certification body, the slowing of the pace of ONC 2014 Edition certification and the unreliable timing of future federal health IT program requirements made program and business planning for new services uncertain. CCHIT’s trustees decided that, in the current environment, operations should be carefully brought to a close.

The announcement should not have come as a surprise. In June, CCHIT launched a new service to assist health IT developers meet the ONC’s certification standards, signaling a transition away from the role of a government authorized certification body.

So what becomes of EHR certification? The answer to that question remains a mystery. The flexibility that needed to be built into meaningful use reporting in 2014 and the demands for more reporting flexibility in 2015 has created an EHR certification quagmire from which the ONC may not be able to extract itself from.





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