Plans to develop a certification process for electronic health records systems compatible with a popular diabetes management program were announced May 24 by the National Committee for Quality Assurance, which would put its stamp of approval on the resulting systems to be marketed by vendors by calling them "NCQA-certified to support the Diabetes Physician Recognition Program."
Almost 2,500 doctors participate in the Diabetes Physician Recognition Program, developed by the NCQA and the American Diabetes Association to spotlight practitioners who meet certain thresholds for following recommended treatment guidelines for diabetic patients.
"It seems like a natural fit," said Allison Klein, manager of information products at the NCQA. "We're looking, in this first phase to work with a few pilot vendors to develop standards."
Klein said there is no timetable set to develop the program, but there is talk of also creating a certification process that corresponds to the Heart/Stroke Physician Recognition Program the NCQA developed with the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association.
"The question you hear a lot of medical groups asking about EHRs is 'Which one should we select?'" said Bob Kaplan, the NCQA's vice president of information technology and chief information officer, in a press release. "By certifying those EHR systems that provide doctors with good data and that help qualify them for recognition, it takes some of the guesswork out of the decision."
NCQA spokesman Jeff Van Ness said vendors will be charged a fee to have their systems reviewed for certification, but the pricing structure is still under development.
A program to develop EHR standards was launched last July by a broad coalition of healthcare information technology stakeholders that came together to form the Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology.
The leader of that group said he didn't see the NCQA as a competing interest and noted the different goals of both organizations.
"What we're trying to do is accelerate adoption of EHRs and what they're trying to do is improve management of diabetes," said Mark Leavitt, M.D., chairman of the CCHIT and medical director of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society.
Although the timing seems a little early, Leavitt said it would be a natural progression for specialized subset certification programs to emerge once broad standards have been established.
"The two could fit together," he said, adding that if the NCQA came out with its certification system first "it would be a little out of sequence."
A public comment period on the first phase of the commission's work ended May 18, and a second will begin July 11 after further preliminary information is published. The schedule calls for initial testing in September and then release of the final certification requirements in December or early 2006.
"We set an aggressive schedule because there is a pretty urgent need for this," Leavitt said.
Leavitt added that he didn't envision EHR certification going down the same road as medical practice guidelines where multiple sets of slightly different standards get promoted by a variety of organizations.
"We don't want physicians to make 20 different stops to see which systems are certified and which ones qualify for pay-for-performance initiatives," he said. "And vendors are not going to put up with applying to 25 different organizations for certification."
Learn more about the Diabetes Physician Recognition Program.