Health IT vendors to apply for certification in April

SAN DIEGO'The Health and Human Services Department's effort to certify electronic health records will accelerate in late April when health IT vendors can begin applying to have their products tested.

Certification is designed to be a seal of approval to ensure that electronic health record systems will be able to exchange data when interoperability standards are set.

The Certification Commission for Healthcare IT, to which HHS awarded a contract to develop criteria and a process to certify systems, will accept applications beginning April 24 from vendors and complete the first round of product approvals in June, said commission chair Mark Leavitt.

CCHIT, which has been testing criteria, will publish an initial commercial certification handbook March 3 for public comment through the month and then make final adjustments, he said.

'We're halfway through the pilot and the validity of the proposed final criteria appears high and will need little adjustment,' Leavitt said yesterday at the annual conference of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society in San Diego.

CCHIT has created test scripts for three scenarios that the vendor must handle with the electronic health record. The organization has developed 300 criteria to test electronic health records for functionality, standards and security, focusing on system components related to safety.

For example, an electronic health record system should be able to alert the physician that a new medication for a patient has a negative interaction with other drugs prescribed for the patient.

Product certification can reduce investment risk and encourage health IT adoption by assuring physicians and hospitals that purchase systems that the application will operate correctly and be standards-ready when interoperability is established.

'We can't accomplish our goals without certification in place,' said David Brailer, National Coordinator for Health IT in HHS.

This year, CCHIT has focused on electronic health record systems for ambulatory patients in physician, outpatient and clinic offices. Next year, CCHIT will develop certification for inpatient or hospital patients, and in 2008, testing for infrastructure applications and products, Leavitt said.

The organization must still resolve the price to charge for certification, the duration of certification, and how to handle software updates of certified applications.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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