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Testing Certifi cation EHR certifi cation: Getting comfortable with the concept

An understanding of what certifi cation is and isn’t, how it differs from meaningful use and what long-term benefi ts it could bring.

By Rik Drummond S

oftware certifi cation is a relatively new concept for the healthcare industry; therefore, it’s created some discomfort. Adding to the uneasiness is the fact that certifi cation is often talked about in the same breath as the meaningful-use requirements emanating from the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) provisions of the government’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). An understanding of what certifi cation is and isn’t, how it differs from meaningful use and what long-term benefi ts it could bring could help dispel some of the awkwardness, and get healthcare professionals and providers on the path toward the full realization of technology’s potential in healthcare.

Certifi cation: What it is

Plain and simple, software certifi cation ensures that products have been tested to meet certain functionality standards. For example, certifi cation indicates that a soft- ware product has registry functions, quality measurement and minimal assurances of interoperability and security. With respect to electronic health records (EHRs), the

Offi ce of the National Coordinator for Health Informa- tion Technology (ONC) has defi ned the criteria for testing this functionality. The government, however, has passed the testing baton to authorized testing and certifi cation bodies (ATCBs).

Rik Drummond is CEO and chief scientist of Drummond Group. For more information on Drummond Group:

Currently, six ATCBs are testing software under the ONC’s temporary certifi ca- tion program. That program will be in effect until a per- manent one is established,

which is expected no sooner than January 2012. These organizations will need to re-apply to continue on as testing and certifying bodies under the government’s permanent program.

All six ONC-ATCBs use test procedures and criteria for EHR certifi cation that were established by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). These re-

26 July 2011

The fact that certifi cation is closely linked to meaningful use has caused an anxiety spike as well.

Simply put, certifi cation measures the functionality of EHR software, while meaningful use measures a provider’s implementation of the said software.

As a result, healthcare providers should make sure that their evaluations of potential software solutions stretch beyond simply checking off the certifi cation box. Providers need to make sure that they purchase a system that meets their specifi c needs and will help them most expediently meet the government’s meaningful-use requirements. In essence, there might be many systems that could potentially help a provider meet a specifi c requirement, such as clinical decision support – but only a few of these technologies might offer the interface that a provider


quirements ensure that EHR systems are uniformly tested and meet meaningful-use requirements as approved by the U.S. Secretary of Health & Human Services (HHS). Upon certifi cation, HHS publishes the names of the certifi ed products on the Certifi ed Health IT Product List.

Certifi cation: Understanding what it is not Under the HITECH program, certifi cation is not in- tended to predict how well the software will serve various segments of the market or how well various providers will like the software. Instead, certifi cation simply validates that the software will work in accordance with ONC specifi cations. Indeed, certifi cation criteria are technical specifi cations, not user specifi cations.

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