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Playing Games with ONC Certification

“Certified” is the $44,000 buzzword prefixing electronic health records (EHR) software. To qualify for Health Information Technology for Economic and Clincal Health (HITECH) Act incentive payments, you must use an EHR that is certified by the government. Additionally, you must use a system – or systems – that offer 100% of the functional and security capabilities required to meet “Meaningful Use” criteria.

Many EHR vendors are promoting their products as “certified,” but the claim can be misleading. There are three ways they could lead you astray:

Alternative Certifications

Before the HITECH Act, two organizations certified medical software:

  • Certification Commission for Health Information Technology (CCHIT) – CCHIT began certifying EHR software in 2006. Since then they have released 10 certification programs for ambulatory and inpatient EHRs.
  • KLAS – KLAS is a private organization that has gathered ratings on EHRs since 1997. Every year they rank EHR vendors and bestow a “Best in KLAS” award on the top 20.

In an effort to stand out from the other 300+ EHR systems on the market, vendors widely promote their CCHIT or KLAS credentials. They may even tack the word “certified” onto their CCHIT or KLAS approved product. This muddies the water for providers. They have to distinguish between CCHIT, KLAS and certification from an ONC-Authorized Testing and Certification Body (ONC-ATCB). While CCHIT and KLAS are meaningful credentials, they’re not the certifications that qualify for incentive funds.

This is especially confusing because CCHIT is now one of six organizations approved to certify EHRs for the HITECH Act. So, if an EHR vendor claims they have CCHIT certification, you’ll need to clarify which one. Is it ONC-ATCB certification, or one of CCHIT’s independent credentials?

Complete EHR vs EHR Module

Software vendors can receive ONC-ATCB certification for a complete EHR or an EHR module. This means a product doesn’t need to meet all criteria for Meaningful Use – instead, it can be partially certified if one or more functions meet a subset of requirements. For example, a vendor could certify their e-prescribing application or their patient portal.

This under-publicized detail could cost you thousands of dollars; by itself, a certified EHR module won’t make you eligible for incentive payments. You must use two or more modular EHRs that, combined, meet 100% of the ONC criteria. So while vendors can officially promote a module as having ONC-ATCB certification, it may fall short of making you eligible.

Guaranteed Incentive Payments

Be mindful of guaranteed incentive payments. It is reasonable for a vendor to guarantee they’ll meet certification criteria. In fact, you might make it a requirement in your purchase decision.

However, guaranteeing incentive payments is altogether different. Technology alone won’t make you eligible. EHRs are just a means to an end. Ultimately, you are responsible for achieving Meaningful Use status. So be wary of this type of guarantee. Read the fine print and find out how you are reimbursed if you don’t qualify for incentive payments. Does the vendor reimburse you the full amount of lost incentive payments? Or do you just get reimbursed for the cost of the software? You shouldn’t purchase a system based on this guarantee alone.

Five Key Questions to Ask Vendors

To help you avoid thse pitfalls, we put together a list of 5 questions to ask vendors. Answering these will put you in a good position to become eligible for incentive payments.

  1. Which certification does the EHR have: CCHIT, KLAS or ONC-ATCB? You must use an EHR that is ONC-ATCB certified in order to be eligible for incentive payments.
  2. Which product version has been certified? Ask the vendor for complete details of their ONC-ATCB 2011/2012 certification, including: product name and version, date certified, unique product identification number, the criteria for which they are certified, and the clinical quality measures for which they were tested.
  3. Does the vendor have certification for a complete EHR or an EHR module? If module, you will need to use more than one to be eligible for incentive payments. The ONC has created a handy website that allows you to build a list of EHR modules that meet 100% of ONC criteria.
  4. Will the vendor resubmit their EHR for final certification in 2012? The current certification is temporary and only lasts through 2011. Make sure your vendor has plans to reapply in 2012, and find out if they will certify a complete EHR or just a module.
  5. Are you purchasing through a reseller or other business partner that renamed the product? If so, make sure the renamed product has been approved by the ONC-ATCB. Even if it is the same version with identical features and functionality, it won’t make their Certified HIT Products List unless the original vendor reports it to an ONC-ATCB.

This article was written by Houston Neal of Software Advice, a free online resource that presents reviews and comparisons of electronic medical record software. The original article can be viewed at Playing Games for ONC Certification.

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