The Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology (CCHIT) just announced a proposal that marks a dramatic change in the way they approach electronic medical record (EMR) certification. CCHIT is currently the only government-recognized body that certifies EMR software. The goal is to “accelerate” the adoption of EMR software by assuring physicians that certified software meets certain standards for functionality, thus eliminating uncertainty from the market.

One major problem with CCHIT is expensive application fee. Application and renewal fees are approximately $40,000, not counting development costs needed to meet CCHIT’s exhaustive standards. This keeps certification out of reach for many smaller vendors. Some have even ventured to say that CCHIT is purposely trying to keep smaller vendors out of the market.

Regardless of whether or not this is true, many smaller vendors fear CCHIT might be selected as the certification criteria for the HITECH stimulus package. In order to qualify for stimulus money, physicians must purchase and use a “certified system,” according to the meaningful use guidelines. If CCHIT is selected in its current form, many EMR vendors could be driven out of business.

Furthermore, the vast majority of EMRs are uncertified; statistics show fewer vendors pursue certification each year. If only a handful of vendors are allowed to provide EMRs for the nation’s physicians, there will not be enough time for the majority of practices to qualify. Many of the larger, CCHIT-certified systems already have six-month implementation backlogs. This will only get worse as 2011 approaches.

However, CCHIT recently proposed three new certification options that might solve these problems. Dr. Mark Leavitt, CCHIT chairman acknowledged the need to accommodate “broader swaths” of the market. The changes would make it easy for smaller vendors and open-source software to achieve certification. One of the proposed certification tracks could cost as little as $5,000, and scholarships may be available for non-profit EMR providers.

The proposal has three tracks, EHR-C, EHR-M, and EHR-S. EHR-C is the most comprehensive, similar to the status quo. EHR-M is geared towards software that focuses on a specific medical specialty, and EHR-S is aimed at vendors who build systems from noncertified components.

CCHIT is certainly on the right track. These are welcome changes which could solve many problems in the EMR industry. CCHIT should implement the new proposals as soon as possible, so vendors can apply before the HITECH requirements are published in January. Failure to do so could jeopardize success of the stimulus package.

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Ryan Ricks

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