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HHS Establishes EHR Certification Program

The temporary certification will let healthcare organizations qualify their electronic health record systems and receive incentive payments through the Department of Health and Human Services.
Healthcare delivery organizations implementing electronic health record (EHR) systems can now test and certify the technology to meet the requirements of "meaningful use" of health IT, and qualify to receive incentive payments under the Medicare and Medicaid EHR incentive program.

On Friday, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) issued a final rule to establish a temporary certification program and a way for organizations to be authorized by the ONC to test and certify EHR technology.

The temporary certification program should give hospitals and eligible professionals enough time to test their EHR systems and apply for incentive payments. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) says payments to Medicaid providers for the adoption, implementation, or upgrade of certified EHR technology could begin as early as the fall of 2010.

The 206-page final rule document states that:

"The National Coordinator will utilize the temporary certification program to authorize organizations to test and certify Complete Electronic Health Records (EHRs) and/or EHR Modules, thereby making Certified EHR Technology available prior to the date on which healthcare providers seeking incentive payments available under the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs may begin demonstrating meaningful use of Certified EHR Technology."

Use of certified EHR technology is a core requirement for eligible healthcare providers to qualify for payments under the Medicare and Medicaid EHR incentive programs administered by CMS. The incentives program was authorized in the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, which was enacted as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009. CMS will soon issue final regulations to implement the EHR incentive programs.

"By purchasing certified EHR technology, hospitals and eligible professionals will be able to make EHR purchasing decisions knowing that the technology will allow them to become meaningful users of electronic health records, qualify for the payment incentives, and begin to use EHRs in a way that will improve quality and efficiency in our healthcare system," David Blumenthal, national coordinator for health IT (HIT), said in a statement. "We hope that all HIT stakeholders view this rule as the federal government's commitment to reduce uncertainty in the health IT marketplace and advance the successful implementation of EHR incentive programs."

EHR technology certification assures healthcare providers that the EHR technology they adopt has been tested and includes the required capabilities they need in order to use the technology in a meaningful way to improve the quality of care provided to their patients, the ONC said in a statement.

On March 10, 2010, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) titled "Proposed Establishment of Certification Programs for Health Information Technology." The NPRM proposed the establishment of two certification programs for purposes of testing and certifying EHRs -- one temporary and one permanent. The temporary certification program final rule issued on Friday will become effective upon publication in the Federal Register. The final rule for the permanent certification program is expected to be published this fall.