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ONC admits problems with EHR test tool


By Joseph Conn
Posted: January 24, 2013 - 1:45 pm ET
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The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology at HHS is acknowledging that some snags on its end are creating a bottleneck in its program to ensure that electronic health-record systems used by hospitals, office-based physicians and other professionals are able to help them meet Stage 2 meaningful-use criteria.

The ONC sent a memo Thursday to five independent organizations testing and certifying EHRs for the program, acknowledging problems with custom-made software to be used by those organizations as well as software developers to test EHRs.

Carol Bean, director of the office of certification at ONC, sent the notice to what are known as Authorized Certification Bodies and Accredited Testing Laboratories, independent organizations that have tested—and certified the test results on—more than a thousand EHRs and “modular” components of them under Stage 1 of the federal EHR incentive payment program created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

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The memo acknowledges problems with the “Transport Test Tool,” one of about 10 software testing tools developed by the government and its contractors to be used by the testing labs, vendors and those providers with self-developed EHRs to ensure their EHR can meet the so-called 2014 Edition EHR Certification Criteria.

Conformance with the 2014 Edition criteria, which go hand-in-hand with Stage 2 meaningful-use criteria developed by the CMS, is required so that providers have systems capable of taking them to Stage 2. The shift to Stage 2 criteria starts for hospitals that have already completed two or three years at Stage 1, on Oct. 1, 2013, and for ambulatory-care physicians and other eligible professionals on Jan. 1, 2014.

According to a summary provided by the ONC, Bean's memo said the ONC will try to have all of the outstanding questions about the transport tool answered by the end of this week, that documentation is being developed and should be available by the end of January to guide users of the tool in downloading it onto their own computers, and that ONC also is preparing an webinar to help vendors install the tool.

Bean's memo also said ONC expects the coming fixes to a version of the tool that can be downloaded (a separate version is available to run online) should be completed by Feb. 15.

The ONC also plans to set up a helpline to answer additional questions and will provide information about the helpline as soon as it is up and running, according to the summary of the Bean memo.

“The installation is very complex and hard for people to do,” Bean said in a telephone interview Thursday. “They need more help with that than they've gotten so far, and we're trying to respond to that request with documentation, technical assistance, training and webinars.”


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