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CCHIT has a Seat at Table – for Now

by John Moore | August 14, 2009

Today, the HIT Policy Committee met once again, this time to hammer out what the term “certified EHR” means within the context of future ARRA reimbursements to physicians and hospitals.  Chilmark sat in on the discussions, here is our assessment of what transpired. (See yesterday’s post, below, as to why the Certification issue is critical.)

The Certification workgroup presented their refined recommendations today (these were first announced at the July 16th meeting), which were subsequently approved by the broader HIT Policy Committee.  Marc Probst of InterMountain Healthcare and co-chair of the workgroup led discussions which began with a high level list of five recommendations, (see slide below).  For simplicity, we will focus on these five recommendations in our discussions as they encapsulate the entire meeting and what was ultimately approved.


In Recommendation 1 the workgroup emphasized that certification criteria must be kept at a high level, (e.g., not specify how an alert would be presented, simply that one would be presented) criteria must directly link back to supporting the meaningful use criteria that were approved on July 16th. Th workgroup also emphasized that the creation of certification criteria must be the responsibility of HHS/ONC and not a third party such as CCHIT. (Note: CMS is now converting MU criteria into actual rules – and based on some comments today, it is not an easy task.  Creating certification criteria will be easier, but still a lot to add on to the plate of HHS who already has its hands full.)

But where the workgroup wants a lot of specificity is with interoperability suggesting that HHS/CMS develop certification criteria that is quite specific to insure interoperability between systems. With such tight time-frames and deadlines in place, this issue of interoperability could become one of the most challenging aspects of the whole HITECH Act, for underlying all three workgroups (Meaningful Use, Certification and HIEs) is interoperability.  But what is interoperability anyway?  Is it computable data? Is it transmittal and sharing of PDFs? Is it order sets, med lists, labs?

Looking back, the Meaningful Use matrix does provide some guidance as to what data is to be shared for care coordination, but that still does not eliminate the challenge of creating specific criteria for interoperability that can be readily certified and put into the market.  Also, it is important to note that certification for vendors may have to occur every two years (2011, 2013, 2015) in lock-step with the ever increasing requirements for meaningful use which itself calls for ever more complex data sets to be shared.

Recommendation 2 was pretty much a no brainer as ARRA legislation specifically calls for certain enhancements to security and privacy of medical records (audit trails, consent, etc.).   Here again the workgroup emphasized the need for HHS to get aggressive on establishing clear certification guidance on interoperability as it pertains to addressing security and privacy.

It was in Recommendation 3 that the workgroup suggested that HHS allow multiple certification organizations (not just CCHIT), to conduct certifications of EHR systems stating that this will help create a competitive market for such services and increase transparency into the certification process.  The workgroup also recommended that NIST establish and execute an accreditation process for certifying organizations.

While CCHIT has certainly been marginalized, they will still play an important role in the interim.  Right now there are no other certifying organizations, the market is being quite cautious in making any large EMR purchases awaiting to see what comes out of DC and this whole certification/accreditation development and meaningful use rule-making is going to take time.  What was proposed today is that CCHIT take the lead until at least October (it will more likely end up being well into Q1’10) for mapping meaningful use criteria, as defined in the matrix, to high level certification criteria and provide an interim certification for EHR systems.  Remember, this role of CCHIT is on an interim basis and NOT permanent, though others may want you to think differently (Note, Government Health IT is owned by HIMSS a strong advocate of CCHIT.)

The workgroup also wanted to acknowledge the investments that HIT vendors have already made to get CCHIT certified.  Thus, for those vendors with 2008 CCHIT certification, they need not go through a whole re-certification once guidelines are released, but simply be certified for any gaps that may exist between these two certification processes, with the latter focused on meaningful use.

For Recommendation 4 it appears that like CCHIT, the workgroup received a lot of feedback from Open Source advocates, those that developed their own solutions and smaller software companies that have developed EHR enabling modules.  Therefore, the workgroup followed CCHIT’s lead wih a similar strategy recommending that all systems be tested equally with same high level criteria, regardless of the source of the software. They also encouraged a “flexible certification process” that will account for non-traditional software sources (eg, the RYO camp) and that there be a process to certify distinct, meaningful use enabling modules (eg, eRx).  Chilmark thought CCHIT did a good job here and it is equally good to see the workgroup recommend the same.

Recommendation 5 ties back into what we discussed earlier with regards to the future role of CCHIT – there needs to be a transition phase to account for the time-lag between the need to begin certifying EHRs for market and the lengthy rule-making process for meaningful use.  The workgroup recommends adopting what certification criteria that exists today (obviously from CCHIT) that supports meaningful use and where there are no existing criteria, work to converge criteria to meaningful use rules through close internal collaborations within HHS.

This is where it is going to get a little tricky as both the meaningful use matirx is a bit vague and well certification criteria, that is even more vague.  How do we bring convergence for all this in a timely fashion so that physicians and hospitals can begin installing certified EHRs that provide them the capability to demonstrate meaningful use in order to get their 2011 reimbursement?   We’re not sure how to get there from here, but one thing is for sure, it will be a rocky road ahead.

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