ONC Delays Start of EHR Permanent Certification Program

The permanent certification program for the meaningful use EHR incentive program will not ring in with the New Year as planned. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT has pushed back the start date to summer 2012.

The launch of the permanent program, which will replace the temporary program in effect since June 2010, will now coincide with the release of the stage 2 meaningful use final rule and the attendant release of new standards and certification criteria.

The delay also allows ONC more time to develop and approve the authorized certifying bodies (ONC-ACBs) that will evaluate EHR systems against the meaningful use requirements.

“We believe aligning the sunset of the temporary certification program with the effective date of this forthcoming final rule would provide certainty to healthcare providers, EHR technology developers, and other stakeholders, while also ensuring a sufficient number of accredited testing laboratories and ONC-ACBs exist to meet market demand,” wrote Farzad Mostashari, the national coordinator for health IT, in a notice of the delay published in the November 3 Federal Register.

The January 1, 2012, date was never set in stone. ONC made it clear when releasing a final rule on the permanent program this past January that it would delay the start as necessary. The target date had been at the request of the industry, which sought a date for planning purposes.

ONC made the decision after consulting with the American National Standards Institute and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Both organizations play a role in accrediting organizations to test and certify products under the permanent program.

“We base this conclusion on ANSI and [NIST’s] estimations of the amount of time needed to complete the accreditation of certification bodies and testing laboratories, as well as our estimation of the time period for the National Coordinator to review the applications of accredited certification bodies and subsequently authorize them as ONC-ACBs,” Mostashari wrote.

The delay has no immediate impact on vendors or providers. EHR products certified under the temporary program will remain certified under the permanent program, regardless of the transition date. Products will require new certification only when the stage 2 meaningful use final rule establishes new or modified system requirements.

Certification bodies approved for the temporary program must re-apply under the permanent program.

There are currently six testing and certifying bodies participating in the temporary certification program. They have certified approximately 1,200 EHRs or EHR modules to date.

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