The HITECH Stimulus Act, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act otherwise known as the “Stimulus Package,” will reimburse qualified physicians who purchase and use a certified Electronic Health Records (EHR) system. The Certification Commission for Health Information Technology (CCHIT) plans to offer a preliminary certification for EHR vendors. The preliminary certification will be limited to the proposed meaningful use requirements.

This is an important development, because many physicians and other health care providers are still waiting for more information before they purchase an EHR. It is a good idea for physicians to be cautious, but waiting too long can jeopardize their chance to participate in the first year of the stimulus package. CCHIT plans to release more information about their certification package on September 24th and begin accepting applications on October 7th.

The certifications are preliminary because the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) isn’t expected to approve the meaningful use requirements until the spring of 2010. The requirements could still change before their final adoption. Most commentators expect any changes will result is less stringent requirements. If that should not be the case, CCHIT will offer “gap testing” to ensure EHR vendors meet the additional requirements.

Although the requirements still aren’t official, preliminary certification should be enough to help physicians move into a buying mode. Physicians can be confident that EHR vendors with preliminary certification will meet or exceed the meaningful use requirements. Physicians can then narrow down their shopping list to focus on things like usability, flexibility, and price. Although price is not the most important factor when purchasing an EHR, many physicians focus on it.

One potential negative side affect of the stimulus package is that it will undoubtedly raise software prices. Basic economics states that prices are set by supply and demand. While the supply, the number of EHR vendors remains steady or shrinks, demand is expected to rise sharply as physicians try to take advantage of the stimulus package. Prices will begin to go up as demand rises. Again, physicians should do their homework and select an appropriate EHR vendor. However, they need start moving out of their “wait and see” mode and start proactively shopping. Waiting too long will result in more difficult implementations and higher prices. Start shopping for your EHR today.

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Ryan RicksSecurity