Commission to start preliminary certifications for EHRs

Goal is head start for 2011 payments

The Certification Commission for Health Information Technology (CCHIT) will start a preliminary certification program for electronic health records (EHRs) Oct. 7, the group has announced.

The goal is to help vendors and providers stay in step with the federal schedule to offer incentive payments under the economic stimulus law to providers starting in 2011, Mark Leavitt, chair of the commission, said in a Sept. 8 news release. The payments will go to doctors' offices and hospitals that can demonstrate the so-called "meaningful use" of certified EHRs.

Although Congress ordered that those payments should begin in 2011, the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) does not expect to issue a final rule that defines meaningful use until the spring of 2010. That offers a limited window of opportunity for doctors and hospitals to take action to qualify for the 2011 payments, Leavitt said.

“There is a high risk that providers would not achieve meaningful use to qualify for the [stimulus law] incentives in 2011 and 2012 if they wait until late 2010 to implement certified EHR systems and technologies,” Leavitt said. He said vendors and providers have expressed a strong interest in a certification program that would prepare them for immediate payments.

Applicants for the preliminary certification are taking a risk because HHS has not yet released the final rule. But the commission said the thrust of the final rule is already known. “The commission has followed and analyzed the emerging recommendations of the health information technology advisory committees to the (HHS) Office of the National Coordinator and believes there is sufficient information to offer the preliminary [stimulus law] certification now,” the announcement said.

If the final rule results in the introduction of new requirements, the commission will offer vendors with preliminary certifications additional services at no charge to bring their certifications into alignment with the final rules. The commission will publish the certification materials on Sept. 24.

CCHIT is the only organization authorized by HHS to certify EHRs. HHS officials are considering recommendations to authorize more organizations to do so, while also granting a special role for the commission to play in providing an interim certification process.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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