HHS-certified EMR systems expected to be available by fall

A final HHS rule establishes a temporary certification process for vendors whose products can meet meaningful use requirements.

By David Glendinning — Posted June 28, 2010

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Physicians and hospitals looking to qualify for federal electronic medical record incentives should be able to purchase a system with the federal government's seal of approval under meaningful use guidelines starting this fall.

The Dept. of Health and Human Services on June 18 unveiled a final regulation allowing for a temporary certification process for EMR vendors. In order for a physician to become eligible for bonuses available through either Medicare or Medicaid, the doctor not only must adopt a certified system but also use it in a way the government deems meaningful.

The temporary certification process is necessary because bonuses start in 2011, and doctors must be online with paperless systems before then if they hope to secure the maximum amount available. Under the federal stimulus package that established the incentives, physicians that have not achieved meaningful use of EMRs before 2015 will start incurring Medicare penalties.

Under temporary certification, the national health information technology coordinator will give the green light to vendors whose EMRs will offer users the capability to achieve meaningful use of the technology. A permanent process, expected in early 2012, will designate an outside agency to accredit certification bodies.

The June rule finalizes part of a proposed regulation issued in March. In numerous comments to HHS on that proposed rule, stakeholders called on the federal government to approve automatically any EMR system that has already gone through a certification process. The Certification Commission for Health Information Technology is currently the only body that has been recognized by the federal government as offering EMR certification.

But HHS officials rejected those requests, meaning CCHIT, just like any other organization, would need to apply to be an EMR certifier through the temporary process starting on July 1. The agency said allowing past certifications to stand would give physicians and others "a false sense of security."

"If we were to permit grandfathering according to the logic expressed by these commenters, the only way we, and the commenters, would be able to tell if an EHR should legitimately be deemed grandfathered would be if the eligible professional or eligible hospital had successfully achieved meaningful use," HHS wrote in the final rule. "We question whether commenters would be willing to take the risk of attempting meaningful use without the certainty of knowing that their EHR provided the capabilities they would need to attempt to achieve it."

Karen M. Bell, MD, CCHIT's chair, said in a statement she was confident her commission would be approved to green light EMRs under the temporary process because of its years of testing and certification experience.

HHS will soon issue a separate final rule on the meaningful use requirements, which doctors and hospitals must follow in order to qualify for bonuses. Physician organizations have complained that the requirements outlined in a proposed rule earlier this year would force them to do too much too quickly when it comes to EMR implementation.

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