E-health record system certification requests rise sharply

46 vendors have applied for certification of their digital record systems since Feb. 12

The only organization currently certifying electronic health record (EHR) systems that aim to qualify for $17 billion in federal payments under the economic stimulus law has seen a jump in activity in recent weeks.

Since Feb. 12, 46 vendors have applied for certification of their digital record systems from the Certification Commission for Health Information Technology (CCHIT) under the new stimulus law criteria, according to Alisa Ray, executive director of the commission.

“We are open for applications, and the response has been strong,” Ray said in a statement March 1. Half the vendors are pursuing comprehensive certification, and half seek modular certification, she added.

The vendors are motivated by the $17 billion in incentive payments from the economic stimulus law that are being distributed by the Health and Human Services Department. Congress specified that the payments would go to doctors and hospitals that purchase certified EHR systems and become meaningful users of those systems.

HHS published regulations for certification and meaningful use Jan. 13, but it intends to release additional rules. HHS has not yet accredited the organizations authorized to  perform the certifications, but CCHIT is considered the prime candidate for that task and it is forging forward.

Purchase of a certified EHR system does not automatically qualify a doctor or hospital for a payment. There also are criteria for collecting and exchanging the patient data that must be met to demonstrate meaningful use.

CCHIT is a nonprofit organization that has been certifying EHR systems since 2006. It recently updated its certification programs to conform to requirements contained in HHS’ Interim Final Rule on certification published Jan. 13, which became effective Feb. 12. CCHIT began accepting applications for certification under its interim final rule programs Feb. 12.

HHS officials have said they expect to publish another proposed rule on certification soon. When that happens, CCHIT plans to perform a gap analysis and update its process again.

HHS also plans to publish a proposed rule on accreditation of organizations that are authorized to perform the certifications. However, CCHIT is considered the prime candidate for that role since it formerly was the only organization in that capacity recognized by HHS. Health and Human Services officials have hinted they may accredit other certification organizations as well.

In related news, CCHIT also announced on March 1 it is developing comprehensive certification programs for EHRs specializing in women’s health and in oncology.

Specialty EHRs emphasize specific criteria related to a medical specialty or category of patient. For example, pediatric EHRs have a focus on immunization and growth charts.

CCHIT previously has developed specialized EHRs for cardiovascular medicine, child health and emergency departments and is planning to launch EHRs for behavioral health, clinical research, dermatology, and long-term and post-acute care this summer.

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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