HIMSS10: ONC proposes two-phase EHR certification plan

On Sunday, before the start of the annual Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society conference in Atlanta, the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives urged federal officials to hurry up and give them some rules on EHR certification so healthcare organizations can move toward achieving meaningful use next year.

Tuesday, they got their wish. Less than half an hour before National Coordinator Dr. David Blumenthal convened an ONC town hall at HIMSS10, his office published the long-awaited notice of proposed rulemaking regarding certification of EHRs.

ONC is calling for two separate programs, the first a temporary measure running through the first quarter of 2012, followed by a permanent mechanism set to take effect in the fourth quarter of 2011, with the overlap allowing for a short transition period.

In the short term, expect very little to change. It's likely the Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology will continue its planned 2011 certification efforts, simply conforming its rules to HHS specifications, including offering site-specific certification for home-grown EHR systems. But for the second, permanent phase, accreditation would come into play. ONC would accredit certification organizations, while the National Institute of Standards and Technology's National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program would accredit testing laboratories.

Certification organizations would have to be capable of both maintaining certification protocols and running the actual testing, according to Steven Posnack, policy analyst in the ONC Office of Policy and Planning. "We hope that there will be multiple bodies that do this," Posnack said, reiterating a previously stated ONC position. The goal is to encourage uniformity in quality of certification while also encouraging innovation. "One of the things we're most interested in is remote certification," Posnack added.

Meanwhile, CCHIT is making plans to stick around for a while. On Monday, the commission announced that it would develop comprehensive EHR certification programs for oncology and OB/GYN. The following day, it embraced the ONC plan. "[Tuesday's] release of the Certification NPRM is an important step that will reduce the uncertainty that the healthcare community has experienced while awaiting this additional information," CCHIT Executive Director Alisa Ray said in a written statement. "We plan to file an application with ONC as soon as they are ready to accept them."

For more details:
- read the ONC fact sheet on the proposed rule
- see CCHIT's statement