"In particular, we are interested in commenters' thoughts on whether we should consider adopting certification criteria for other healthcare settings, such as the long-term care, post-acute care, and mental and behavioral health settings," the propose rule's authors wrote.
"For those commenters that believe we should consider certification criteria for other healthcare settings," the writers ask that their comments "specify the certification criteria that would be appropriate as well as the benefits they believe a regulatory approach would provide."
In addition, they "ask that the public consider whether the private sector could alternatively address any perceived need or demand for such certification. For example, we are aware that the Certification Commission for Health Information Technology has certification programs for long-term and post-acute care as well as behavioral health EHR technology."
CCHIT, as health IT historians will remember, was created in response to a call way back in 2004 by Dr. David Brailer, the first head of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT. Brailer asked the private sector to create an Underwriters Laboratory-type seal of approval for EHRs as a means to boost provider IT adoption. The seal, Brailer argued, would boost EHR adoption by helping assuage the fears of potential EHR buyers that they could be sold a pile of vaporware.
Alisa Ray, CCHIT executive director, said the not-for-profit recognized back in 2006 that there was a need for certification programs for provider organizations left out of mainstream health IT adoption efforts. In response, CCHIT has developed certifications for EHRs for skilled-nursing homes and home health programs as well as basic EHR add-ons for children's health, women's health and clinical research, to name a few.
Ray said the call for comments was "a complete surprise to us."
"Could it be a signal that finally incentives are coming for this group?" she said. "We've been in many public forums where we've heard many providers voice their opinion about" being excluded from the incentive payment program.
Absent an expansion of the federal incentive payment program, "I think we'd just need to see whether the federal government is wanting to launch into areas not aligned with the program," she said. In those areas, she said, "it seems the private sector is doing fine."
Let's hope this foray represents the first federal push toward a broadened health IT incentive program, expanded to all dentists, nursing homes, home health and hospice programs. Congress should address its own mistake in excluding them under the stimulus law and expand the meaningful-useprogram to provide incentives for them, too.
Follow Joseph Conn on Twitter: @MHJConn.