The unveiling of a proposed rule that lays the groundwork to authorize organizations to certify electronic health records for a large federal EHR incentive program was greeted with enthusiasm by industry executives.
HHS unveils process to help providers with IT subsidies for EHRs
The move by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology at HHS could ease a major bottleneck to a multibillion-dollar federal program to subsidize the purchase of EHR systems by hospitals and office-based physicians under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
The new rule “really filled the gap for providers,” said Alana Ketchel, a consultant working with the California Health and Human Services Agency. Once the certification programs are up and running, providers will know “they'll have a product so they'll be able to get their incentive payments,” Ketchel said.
David Blumenthal, head of the ONC, announced the release of the 184-page rule at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society conference in Atlanta. (For more on the HIMSS gathering, see p. 30.) To be eligible for federal IT subsidy payments under the stimulus law, hospitals and so-called “eligible professionals,” chiefly physicians, must use “certified” EHR systems in a meaningful manner.
The new rule outlines a two-pronged EHR certification process, one temporary and one permanent.
One prong of the new process would establish one or more organizations called an ONC-authorized testing and certification body. The expedited process could permit EHRs and separate component parts or modules of an EHR to be certified by as early as this summer, according to Steve Posnack, policy analyst for the ONC. The final rule should be published this spring, Posnack said. Organizations seeking to become certification bodies can begin applying for recognition once the final rule is published, he said.
The temporary program would expire in the first quarter of 2012. It would be replaced by the second prong of the process, which would create a permanent program that would designate an outside agency to certify organizations, according to the new rule.
The permanent program would separate the responsibilities for testing and certifying and also provide for testing of IT systems besides EHRs and EHR modules, such as personal health records and health information exchanges.
Linda Kloss, CEO of the American Health Information Management Association, said the bifurcated authorization process sounded like a workable scheme “to get this rolling.”
The National Institute of Standards and Technology is developing a method and infrastructure that will be used by testing laboratories in the testing component of both certification programs. The public comment period for the temporary certification program will be open for 30 days after official publication of the new rule in the Federal Register. The public comment period for the permanent certification program will be open for 60 days after publication.
Jamie Skipper, president of Skipper Congressional Strategies, a Washington-based policy advisory firm, said “it's encouraging to know this is not in the future now. It's definite. It still remains to be seen how timely the bodies can conform to these criteria and the vendors can meet these criteria to have products ready for their customers.”
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