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ONC Reveals 5 Year Health IT Certification Improvement Plan

ONC plans to assist the healthcare industry in developing its own health IT certification program testing tools.

ONC Health IT Certification

Source: Thinkstock

By Kate Monica

- ONC recently announced plans to implement a five-year plan to alter its health IT certification program to include testing tools developed by the healthcare industry instead of relying on tools financed by tax-payer dollars.

The federal agency devised the five-year plan in an effort to fulfill the aims of the 21st Century Cures Act.

“Achieving this goal will enable the Program to more efficiently focus its testing resources and better align with industry-developed testing tools, which could help support the “real world testing” envisioned by the Cures Act,” wrote ONC Director of the Office of Standards and Technology Steve Posnack, MS in a blog post.

The health IT certification program has undergone several changes since its inception in 2010 to improve the program’s level of transparency and efficiency.

Underpinning the program’s operation are the electronic, automated testing tools used to measure the competence and compliance of health IT across the industry.

“These tools enable health IT to be repeatedly and rigorously tested relative to its ability to accurately create standardized data files and perform interoperability oriented transactions,” wrote Posnack. “Over time, and in partnership with other federal agencies such as CDC, CMS, and NIST, ONC has expanded the Program’s electronic test tool portfolio, including how comprehensively these tools test standards’ conformance consistent with the additional interoperability requirements we included in adopted certification criteria.”

Presently, the development and maintenance of the program’s testing tools are primarily financed by tax-payer dollars.

However, stipulations in ONC’s health IT certification regulations also allow health IT developers, standards development organizations, and others part of the private sector to provide their own testing tools. These privately-developed testing tools could someday replace the testing infrastructure currently in place, eliminating the need for much of the public funding used to support testing tool development.

“A diverse mix of testing tools, including those developed in partnership with or solely administered by industry, can help optimize the certification experience,” stated Posnack.

ONC has already taken steps to advance this goal.

Last month, ONC approved a testing method proposed by the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) for electronic clinical quality measures (eCQMs) as an alternative to ONC’s provided test method, according to the post.

“This approval was a first step toward our five-year goal and is a clear signal that the Program can and will approve industry-developed testing methods,” stated Posnack.

ONC is also collaborating with standards development organizations that administer health IT interoperability testing tools with the aim of developing tools capable of functioning as the sole ONC-approved testing method for the certification program.

Ultimately, ONC intends to foster a program where participants can individually, collectively, or collaboratively develop testing tools with the private sectors in the same way stakeholders in other industry programs do already.

“These changes will take time and in some instances could result in new business arrangements and fee structures based on who has invested in the testing tool(s), the costs to administer them, and the scope and scale at which they could be used (e.g., for 2015 Edition certification as well as a consortium’s “on boarding” process),” clarified Posnack.

ONC stated it is willing to continually work with health IT stakeholders over the next five years to reach this goal.

In another effort to fulfill the goals of the 21 Century Cures Act, ONC recently held the first of three multi-stakeholder meetings for the development of a trusted exchange framework and common agreement.

The trusted exchange framework will assist in standardizing and promoting network-to-network health data exchange. 

The first stakeholder meeting is open for public comment until Aug. 25, 2017. 

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