ONC Releases EHR Certification Program Proposal

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT sketched in another piece of the meaningful use puzzle today, releasing a notice of proposed rulemaking on the program that will test and certify health IT for use in the voluntary incentive program. [Update: the rule was officially published March 10 in the Federal Register.]

Professionals and hospitals seeking to receive payments under the program must use EHR products that meet federal criteria. The meaningful use program was created under the HITECH Act, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signed in February 2009.

The meaningful use program is scheduled to begin October 1 for hospitals and January 1, 2011, for professionals. In order to get the certification program running as quickly as possible, ONC is proposing a temporary certification process that will serve until a permanent program makes its way through the rulemaking process. The temporary program is expected to run through 2011.

The phased approach “provides a bridge to detailed guidelines to support an ongoing program of testing and certification of health IT,” wrote David Blumenthal in a March 2 e-mail announcing the rule.

Under the temporary program, ONC would authorize organizations to assume many of the responsibilities that will eventually be fulfilled under the permanent certification program. The proposed permanent program would transition much of the responsibility for testing and certification to organizations in the private sector, according to the announcement.

ONC anticipates issuing separate final rules for each of the proposed certification programs, according to an online FAQ. It plans to issue a final rule for the temporary program around the same time that the final rules for meaningful use stage 1 and standards and certification criteria appear. It expects to issue a final rule for the permanent certification program by early fall of this year.

Any organization or consortium of organizations that can “successfully demonstrate competency with internationally recognized standardized certification and testing standards and methods” may apply for the program, according to the FAQ. ONC will begin accepting applications when the final rule for the temporary program is published.

The meaningful use certification program is independent of any other certification initiatives, such as that of the Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology.

ONC’s NPRM on the certification program follows two closely related rules published at the start of the year. In January the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services published an NPRM describing the qualification requirements, objectives, and measures of the meaningful use program itself. At the same time, ONC published an interim final rule defining the technical standards and certification criteria for EHR products.

HHS will accept comments on the temporary program for 30 days following publication in the Federal Register. It will accept comments on the permanent program for 60 days.

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