ONC does not adopt 2015 'voluntary' EHR certification criteria

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story stated that the government abandoned the 2015 voluntary EHR certification criteria. ONC did not adopt the 2015 version, and has changed the naming process for similar rulemaking efforts. We regret the error.

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT has issued a new final rule that makes the 2014 edition of certification criteria more flexible and folds in some of the criteria that had been proposed in its 2015 voluntary edition of electronic health record certification criteria, which the agency has opted not to adopt.

The new final rule, to be published in the Federal Register Sept. 11, explains that while ONC still believes that many of the reasons for creating the voluntary certification edition were valid, "upon consideration of public comment, further reflection of ONC goals and timelines, and a desire to adhere to the administration's principles ... we have not adopted the Proposed Voluntary Edition."

Instead, ONC says it will adopt "a small subset" of its original proposals in the Proposed Voluntary Edition "as optional 2014 Edition EHR certification criteria," which is also referred to as the "2014 Edition Release 2" or "2014 Edition Release 2 EHR certification criteria." ONC also says it has made revisions to 2014 Edition EHR certification criteria "that provide flexibility, clarity, and enhance health information exchange."

At the same time, ONC has opted to change the naming process for similar rulemaking efforts.

"We believe that a simpler approach will be for future certification criteria editions to be named by the year in which the final rule is published, and other rulemakings like this final rule (which include additional criteria or alternatives to previously adopted certification criteria) would be added to the most current edition of certification criteria," the rule states. "To further clarify, a rulemaking like this one that does not adopt an edition of certification criteria would be referred to as '[current edition year] Release #X.'"

The new rule includes 10 optional and two revised criteria, such as splitting the computerized physician order entry (CPOE) criterion into three certification criteria and revising the view/download/transmit criterion. 

"This final rule reflects ONC's commitment to continually improve the certification program and respond to stakeholder feedback," National Coordinator for Health IT Karen DeSalvo (pictured) said in a statement. "It provides more choices for health IT developers and their customers, including new interoperable ways to securely exchange health information. It also serves as a model for ONC to update its rules as technology and standards evolve to support innovation."

The rule additionally makes administrative improvements to the program, such as discontinuing the "complete EHR" certification concept and adopting an updated standard for ONC-authorized certification bodies.

ONC clarifies that EHR developers do not have to update and recertify their products for this 2014 edition Release 2, nor do providers need to upgrade their EHRs. However, ONC encourages them to consider whether the rule gives them "opportunities they might want to pursue." ONC also states that it does not expect this rule to have a significant impact.

ONC has been under the gun in recent months regarding the continued worth of the Meaningful Use program and its own sustainability. Providers have been struggling with Stage 2 of the program; a final rule issued last month to provide some leeway this year has been decried by many as insufficient.  

To learn more:
- here's the final rule (.pdf)
- read ONC's announcement