HHS Lays Out Plans to Test, Certify EHRs


The federal government has put forward its plan to test and certify electronic health records in preparation for the Medicare and Medicaid incentive program that will reward physicians for the use of health information technology.

The proposed rule, which was released on March 2, establishes a temporary certification program in which the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, Dr. David Blumenthal, will designate certain organizations to test and certify complete electronic health records (EHRs) and related modules.

Under the temporary program, Dr. Blumenthal's office would take on many of the functions, such as accreditation, that will later be performed by private groups. The idea behind the temporary program is to ensure that certified EHR products are available before the first incentives for use of certified systems begin in 2011.

The rule also proposes the creation of a permanent certification program that would eventually replace the temporary one. The permanent program would be more sophisticated, dividing the responsibility for testing and certification among different organizations. The permanent program also would include accreditation processes and set forth the requirement that certification bodies perform surveillance of certified EHR products. Certification bodies also may be able to assess additional health information technology products beyond EHRs and their modules. Both certification programs, however, would be voluntary.

Dr. Blumenthal called publication of the proposed rule an “important first step” to bringing structure to the evaluation of EHRs and EHR modules. “The programs will help support end users of certified products, and ultimately serve the interests of each patient by ensuring that their information is securely managed and available where and when it is needed,” he said in a statement.

Earlier this year, the federal government issued a proposed rule outlining the criteria for meaningful use of EHRs and an interim final rule that included an initial set of standards and specifications for certification of products.

Two separate regulations finalizing the temporary and permanent certification programs are expected to be published by the fall.

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