The wheels of government turn slowly, except in the case of the Health Information Technology and Economic Clinical
Health (HITECH) Act and certification by the Certification Commission for Health Information Technology (CCHIT).
In an earlier article I wrote for SearchHealthIT.com concerning electronic health records and EHR vendors’ process for certifying their products to meet the requirements of the HITECH Act (which is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 [ARRA]), I explained the state of EHR certifications and funding.
The HITECH Act requires the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, in consultation with the director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, to recognize a program or programs for the voluntary certification of health IT as compliant with applicable certification criteria adopted under the HITECH Act.
Last fall, the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) designated CCHIT as a recognized certification body. Although CCHIT has this designation, the HITECH Act does not specifically state that an EHR system must be certified by CCHIT for a health care institution to be eligible for the funding available under ARRA.
As of last summer CCHIT had canceled its 2009 certification process and was planning its next one for sometime in 2011, to be identified as CCHIT 2011. Then out of the blue, in late September the commission announced CCHIT 2011; it was released Oct. 7, 2009, along with a new certification process called the Preliminary ARRA Certification. This means that all EHR vendors can get CCHIT 2011 certification of their products now, and therefore meet the certification requirement to qualify their products as eligible for customer funding under the HITECH Act.
I speculated that the commission’s moving up its 2011 certification process and that adding the Preliminary ARRA Certification was a push by the federal government to have an EHR certification process in place for the Health Care Reform Act moving through Congress.
So, what has happened in the EHR certification world since October? On Dec. 1, CCHIT stated on its website that the first group of EHR products had been certified under its new programs, CCHIT Certified 2011 and Preliminary ARRA 2011. Both programs for the first time inspect EHR technology against proposed federal standards to support providers in qualifying for 2011 and 2012 incentives under ARRA.
As of Jan. 29, 2010, there are a total of 11 EHR products that have met the Preliminary ARRA 2011 standard and 18 EHR products that have met the CCHIT Certified 2011 standard.
It is impressive, the speed at which HHS and CCHIT are moving so that viable, certified EHR products will be available for health care institutions under the ARRA incentive funding for 2011 and 2012.
HITECH is moving at supersonic speed … and this government program is not slowing down for anyone or any health care institution.
On Jan. 19, 2010, CCHIT stated that both programs will be updated to conform to the Interim Final Rule released by HHS, and that applications will open on the rule’s effective date of Feb. 12, 2010. The IFR includes the Medicare and Medicaid EHR incentive payment schedule for health care institutions’ adoption of certified EHR products.
“Our aim is to ensure that hospitals and doctors have enough time to purchase and implement certified EHRs, and achieve meaningful use in time to qualify for HHS financial incentives in 2011 and 2012,” said CCHIT executive director Alisa Ray in a release last month.
HITECH Act funding, starting in 2010 and going out to 2014, has been designated to modernize the U.S. health care system by promoting and expanding the adoption of health IT. The federal government’s goal is to reduce health care costs by more than $12 billion over the next 10 years.
This goal will be met through the following programs:
An HHS definition of meaningful use of health IT; HHS standards for the EHR incentive program
- Health IT workforce programs, such as the Information Technology Professionals in Health Care: Program of Assistance for University-Based Training, and the Information Technology Professionals in Health Care: Competency Examination for Individuals
- $60 million to fund Strategic Health IT Advanced Research Projects for the adoption and meaningful use of health IT
- A Medicare and Medicaid EHR incentive payment schedule for health care institutions’ adoption of certified EHR products starting in 2011
- The Beacon Community Program, which will have $220 million in grants to build and strengthen health IT infrastructure and health information-exchange capabilities
- $80 million to support the health IT workforce
- Grants to support community college health IT training programs
- Nearly $1.2 billion in grants for doctors’ and hospitals’ use of EHR technology
- HITECH Act grants to fund approximately 70 Health Information Technology Regional Extension Centers to provide technical assistance and support for the use of EHR technology
- HHS guidance for securing health information and preventing harm from breaches of personally identifiable information
Compared to other government programs, the HITECH Act portion of the ARRA is moving at supersonic speed. These are my recommendations to health care CIOs: Keep abreast of what is going on at HHS; work with your legislators to understand what funding is available to your institution, and when; ask lots of questions about how your institution qualifies for the HHS programs, and work with your EHR vendor to assure that your institution does qualify for them; work with your lawyers to make sure your institution meets the requirements for the programs; and don’t miss any grant eligibility dates.
Remember, this government program is not slowing down for anyone or any health care institution.
Al Gallant is the director of technical services at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H. Let us know what you think about the story; email firstname.lastname@example.org.