EHR certification will be put to the test

The Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology will test its certification process for electronic health record (EHR) software products in December. The commission plans to begin certifying products in March 2006 and publishing results next June.

The commission, which won a $7.5 million contract from the Department of Health and Human Services to carry out the certifications, expects to publish its proposed final criteria by the end of November, said Dr. Mark Leavitt, the commission’s chairman.

The first set of criteria are for EHR products for doctor’s offices and other primary care providers. Certification of hospital EHR products and then networks will follow.

The commission might adjust the proposed certification criteria for primary care records after they review the tests’ results and public comments on the proposed version, Leavitt said. But no major revisions are expected. “At this point you want to refine and adjust,” he said.

The schedule calls for publishing the final certification criteria by early March, in advance of the actual certification testing.

The commission will hold a teleconference Nov. 21 to explain how vendors can apply to take part in the tests. Leavitt said the commission is aiming for between five and 10 participants. He said he expects that more companies will be interested in taking part, and the participants will be chosen by lottery.

Vendors taking part in the pilot tests must agree not to disclose the results of those tests. “We’re very sensitive to not creating a market advantage for any vendor,” said Sue Reber, a commission spokeswoman.

The commission also announced that it will hire an executive director to manage its business operations. Leavitt will remain a full-time chairman with primary responsibility for the certification process, he said. The commission expects to hire more people.

Certifying that EHR products can perform basic functions and meet national standards is one element of the government’s strategy for increasing the use of health IT. Doctors have been reluctant to invest in systems that may not perform as advertised and may not be able to communicate with other systems.

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