The federal advisory committee for electronic health records (EHR) approved a preliminary certification process on Friday, August 14th. The process will start in October, 2009 and allow EHR vendors to apply for HITECH stimulus package certification. The process is only preliminary because the meaningful use requirements have not yet been formally adopted by Health and Human Services (HHS).

The Certification Committee on Health Information Technology (CCHIT) was invited to submit proposals for the preliminary certification process. However, HHS would manage certifications, not CCHIT. Ultimately, multiple organizations will certify EHR vendors once the 2011 regulations are formally in place. HHS and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will oversee the certifying organizations.

The preliminary certification process is an important step in the right direction. EHR vendors are already working to ensure their products will support meaningful use. Allowing vendors to apply for early certification will help them appeal to physicians who are still doing their market research. The heretofore lack of certification requirements and procedures has been one of the main road blocks to EHR adoption.

Most physicians do not want to risk purchasing a system that will not qualify for reimbursements. Preliminary certification will allow vendors to apply early before the meaningful use guidelines are officially adopted in January 2010. Preliminary certification will demonstrate that a product can support the meaningful use requirements. This should eliminate much of the uncertainty plaguing the EHR market and increase adoption rates.

Once preliminary certification begins in October, EHR demand should surge. Although the market is currently slow, many vendors have installation backlogs. Preliminary certification may cause those backlogs to increase. Physicians who are in the “wait and see” mode will need to make a decision quickly. Waiting could result in long delays that may jeopardize the ability to qualify for the first year of reimbursements.

One alternative is to purchase a simple system. Simple systems take much less time to install, so backlogs are not a problem. Simple systems are also easier to learn, meaning you do not use as much valuable time for training instead of seeing patients. Finally, simple systems are easy to use, giving you more time to qualify for meaningful use. Be sure to ask any EHR vendor if they have any backlogs, and how long it takes to implement their system. Their answer will tell you if their system is simple.

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Ryan Ricks

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