HHS issues proposed rule for certification of electronic health records

Notice of Proposed Rulemaking envisions two-phased process for certification of EHRs

The Health and Human Services Department is creating a two-phased program to enable vendors to obtain certifications for their electronic health record (EHR) systems, so that they can qualify for economic stimulus law incentives.

HHS released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on March 2 describing the certification program to test and certify EHRs, Dr. David Blumenthal, HHS’ national coordinator for health IT, said in a news release. The two-phase program includes a temporary and a permanent phase.

The temporary program is being initiated to ensure that certified EHR products are available in time for purchase by eligible hospitals and doctors. The providers must buy and meaningfully use those certified systems to qualify for the $17 billion in stimulus law incentive payments. Under the law, those payments will begin in October 2010.

Under the temporary certification process, the national coordinator for health IT would authorize organizations to assume testing and certification responsibilities. The temporary program would cease once the permanent program began.

HHS is collaborating with the National Institute of Standards and Technology to develop both the temporary and permanent phases of the program. “NIST is developing a test method and infrastructure that will be used by testing laboratories in the testing component of both certification programs,” according to a news release on the NPRM.

According to the NPRM, the national coordinator may name several organizations to conduct the certifications. Currently, the Certification Commission for Health Information Technology (CCHIT) is the only organization that certifies EHRs. The group said it was confident that it would meet the criteria to be recognized as a certifying body for EHRs under the stimulus law.

“Having reviewed the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding certifying bodies, we feel confident about our prospects of becoming accredited,” Alisa Ray, executive director of CCHIT, said in a statement March 2. “Today’s release of the Certification NPRM is an important step that will reduce the uncertainty that the health care community has experienced while awaiting this additional information.”

She said CCHIT is “well prepared” to apply for the certification and feels “confident” about its future.

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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