The recently proposed ‘meaningful use’ criteria for the use of EHR technology require that physicians must use a ‘certified’ EHR to be eligible for incentive payments by the Federal government. However, the criteria for this certification are still unclear. Exactly who will certify EHRs, and to what standards?

According to the CMS website, the Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology (CCHIT) … “is an independent, voluntary, private-sector initiative whose mission is to accelerate the adoption of health information technology by creating an efficient, credible and sustainable certification program.”  At the moment, CCHIT is the only recognized certification body for electronic health records with an established testing program for determining which EHRs meet their certification standards. However, this may soon change, as competition is on the horizon.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) awarded Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. a $400,000 contract to help develop a testing method and processes for certifying electronic health record systems. The consulting firm will help NIST achieve two main program goals:

  1. To develop testing and certification documents and help set up a health IT certification program; and
  2. To set up a “proficiency testing framework” for authorizing certification and testing organizations.

This new contract is a bridge to an already existing contract Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. has with NIST to provide health IT consulting services. NIST was awarded $20 million under ARRA to help the Office of the National Coordinator for health IT build a testing infrastructure that support the security and interoperability of EHR systems- two major components of  ‘meaningful use.’

It will be interesting to see what final rules for EHR certification will be accepted as ONC’s standard. CCHIT has influenced many vendors to adapt EHRs to meet its certification criteria, and it has even certifed many EHRs as “Preliminary ARRA 2011 Certified Technology.” However, what will happen if CCHIT certification is not supported by ONC and its certification requirements for the incentive program? Will vendors with CCHIT certified products have to go through yet another rigorous and costly process to achieve a different certification that is now being developed with ARRA funds by Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. and NIST? These questions remain, as many wait with bated breath to find answers in the upcoming final rules for EHR certification and ‘meaningful use’ standards.