Widespread adoption of health information technology (health IT) can foster improvements in quality, safety, efficiency and access – key goals in today’s national dialog on health reform.

These goals also drive the Certification Commission for Health Information Technology (CCHIT®), a nonprofit, 501(c)3 organization with the public mission of accelerating the adoption of health IT.

A solid foundation for electronic health record technology

Founded in 2004, and certifying electronic health records (EHRs) since 2006, the Commission established the first comprehensive, practical definition of what capabilities were needed in these systems. The certification criteria were developed through a voluntary, consensus-based process engaging diverse stakeholders, and the Certification Commission was officially recognized by the federal government as a certifying body.

Uptake by the health IT industry was rapid; by mid-2009, certified EHR products represented over 75% of the marketplace. Provider organizations endorsed the work as well. Based on this broad acceptance, healthcare payers and purchasers in the government and private sectors began offering incentives to providers for adopting certified EHR technology.

In February 2009, Congress acknowledged the value of certification in the language of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) aimed at stimulating the nation’s economy. The law offers a multi-year series of incentive payments to providers and hospitals for the meaningful use of certified EHR technology.

Readiness for the future: New paths to health IT certification

In response to the federal EHR adoption incentives, CCHIT has broadened access to certification. New paths are intended to bring wider availability of health IT, stimulate innovation, and address the needs of providers and hospitals at varying stages of technology adoption readiness. They are:

  • An ONC-authorized health IT certification — a program that certifies Complete EHRs or EHR Modules against the 2011 or 2014 Edition requirements issued by the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC), US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  This program helps qualify providers for ARRA incentive payments if they have both adopted certified EHR technology  and demonstrate meaningful use of the technology. For the purposes of this program, CCHIT is both a National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)  Accredited Testing Lab (ATL), and an Amerincan National Standards Institute (ANSI) Accredited and ONC Authorized Certification Body (ONC-ACB).
  • An EHR Alternative Certification for Healthcare Providers (EACH) — a tailored ONC HIT Certification Program for customized EHR technology at provider sites. Technology must meet the same minimum federal criteria and standards as commercial products do. This program allows providers and hospitals who develop or assemble EHR technologies themselves to qualify for ARRA incentives, offering an open door to encourage continued innovation.
  • A Health Information Exchange (HIE) Compliance Testing Program — CCHIT was selected by a coalition of  more than 16 states, 40 technology vendors and 34 HIEs, representing more than 50 percent of the U.S. population, to offer a robust, highly automated testing program to verify that, once tested, a system is capable of reliably exchanging health information within and across organizational and state boundaries. The effort is being jointly led by the EHR/HIE Interoperability Workgroup, a consortium of states and vendors; and Healtheway, the newly formed public-private partnership of the eHealth Exchange.  The program is expected to be operational in 2013.
  • A HIT framework for accountable care organizations (ACOs) — a framework to identify the health IT infrastructure components necessary for a provider organization to function effectively as an ACO and help identify any gaps that would prevent them from meeting their goals as an ACO.  An expert advisory panel will develop the framework in early 2013. It  may serve as the basis for additional certification programs developed by CCHIT.
  • A CCHIT Certified® program — an independently developed certification that includes a rigorous inspection of an EHR’s integrated functionality, interoperability and security. This program is especially tailored for health IT products not readily covered by ONC HIT certification such as Emergency Department EHRs, and EHRs used in Long Term and Post Acute Care and Behavioral Health. Products that are CCHIT Certified® are tested against criteria developed by the Commission’s broadly representative, expert work groups.

CCHIT looks forward to addressing new opportunities and challenges ahead as the health IT technology market matures.