Here's what happening. HHS is setting up a permanent program to select organizations to test and certify electronic health records systems as capable of meeting the meaningful-use requirements of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. It also soon will anoint one, independent body to accredit those organizations—there are six now—offering meaningful use testing and certification services.
In a proposed rule covering both endeavors issued last March, HHS' plan called for its Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology to review applications from organizations wanting to become the above mentioned accreditation authority. The ONC was to review those applications in the order they'd be received, and then anoint the first organization that it deemed qualified as its “ONC-Approved Accreditor.”
However, in its final rule on the selection process, published in the Federal Register last week, HHS admitted it had been talked out of its original scheme by criticism during the public comment period.
“We (now) recognize the limitations of this approach in that it would prevent the National Coordinator from considering all of the requests for ONC-AA status that are submitted and selecting the accreditation organization that is found to be the best qualified in comparison to the entire pool of organizations that submitted requests for ONC-AA status,” the HHS rule said. Instead, HHS has opted in its final rule for an open, competitive process, one that “will ensure the best qualified organization that submits a request is chosen as the ONC-AA, which will improve the overall quality of the program and instill confidence in the general public as well as industry stakeholders.”
No one ever imagined a Black-Friday-at Wal-Mart-type mob pressing at the doors of HHS over this accreditation authority, but clearly HHS found wisdom in its critics who recommended a slightly more cumbersome, but also more competitive and deliberative process. The HHS folks made the right call, amending the program accordingly.