Everything you knew about certification is about to change

June is nearly upon us, and with it comes the anxious last days before HHS finalizes rules for "meaningful use" of health IT and for certification of EMR products. (National health IT coordinator Dr. David Blumenthal is sticking to his promise that everything will be done in late spring, and summer begins June 21.)

Lots of organizations have called on CMS to loosen the requirements for stage 1 of meaningful use--covering 2011 and 2012--though some consumer groups and, notably, HIMSS, want the bar kept as high as it is in the current proposed rule. How that turns out is anybody's guess at this point.

What's more certain is that the certification process will be markedly different from how it's been since the Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology started testing EMR functionality in 2006. For one thing, we know we're going to see some competition, since the Drummond Group says it will launch a certification program of its own. Plus, certification bodies are going to have to be accredited, a process that the National Institute of Standards and Technology--part of the Commerce Department--will oversee.

In March, CCHIT put the brakes on its own certification program until it can gain accreditation under ARRA. That seemed like a big deal--until this week.

Monday, the not-for-profit Electronic Healthcare Network Accreditation Commission announced that it has submitted comments to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, seeking major changes to the proposed certification rule. Of particular note, Farmington, Conn.-based EHNAC worries that the proposed requirement that HIE certification bodies also be accredited to certify EMRs would reduce competition. As an organization focused on networks, EHNAC is interested in certifying HIEs.

The group also wants ONC to extend the fall 2010 deadline for entities to develop certification plans--again in the name of competition.

I can't say for sure what Blumenthal and his team are thinking, but he has been adamant in wanting to open up certification to multiple organizations. But can the industry afford to wait beyond the fall, especially considering that the Medicare and Medicaid bonus program for hospitals begins Oct. 1, the start of the federal fiscal year?

I don't envy the decision-makers. - Neil