Providers and patients must be confident that the electronic health information technology (health IT) products and systems they use are secure, can maintain data confidentially, can work with other systems to share information, and can perform a set of well-defined functions. To this end, standards, implementation specifications, and certification criteria for health IT are being established by the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC.)

Like CMS, ONC has also engaged public comment through formal rule making to inform these standards and criteria. Earlier this year, ONC published an interim final rule on the standards and certification criteria and accepted public comments. ONC released their final rule on July 13, 2010. This final rule established the required capabilities, related standards and implementation specifications that certified EHR technology will need to include to, at a minimum, support the achievement of meaningful use Stage 1. This assures that certified EHR technology for the incentive programs will be capable of performing the required procedures for meaningful use Stage 1 in order to qualify for incentive payments.

They have also issued its final rule for the temporary certification program, which provides a way for organizations to be authorized by the National Coordinator to test and certify EHR technology for the EHR incentive programs. This temporary certification program assures the availability of certified EHR technology to demonstrate meaningful use for the first year of the EHR incentive programs.

Through the temporary certification program, these new ONC-authorized organizations will be established. They are called the "Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology Authorized Testing and Certification Bodies" (ONC-ATCBs), and they will test and certify that complete EHRs and EHR modules are compliant with the standards, implementation specifications, and certification criteria now finalized and ultimately adopted by the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

For more information on the temporary certification program and certification standards, see "Health IT/Certification Program" and "Health IT/Standards and Certification" in the Related Links Outside CMS section below.


How Certification is related to the EHR Incentive Programs

The EHR Incentive Programs require the use of certified EHR technology, as established by these new set of standards. Existing EHR technology needs to be certified by an ONC-ATBC to meet these new criteria in order to qualify for the incentive payments.

NOTE: Currently, there are no certified EHR products that meet the certification requirements for this program in order to receive an incentive payment.


Timing of Certified EHR Technology for the EHR Incentive Program

Two things are happening simultaneously -

1. entities to test and certify EHR technology are being established and

2. the final standards to be eligible for certification are now available for vendors to begin implementing in EHR products to get them ready to be tested and certified.

Through the temporary certification program, new certification bodies will be established to test and certify EHR technology for the EHR incentive programs. In addition, now that the certification standards are established, vendors definitively know the standards and criteria for certified EHR technology, and they can make adjustments to their products to include the required specifications if their products do not already include them. Upon the "opening" of the certifying bodies, vendors can submit their EHR products to be tested and certified. Hospitals and practices who have developed their own EHR systems can also seek to have their existing systems tested and certified. Complete EHRs may be certified as well as EHR modules that meet at least one of the certification criterions. Once a product is certified, it will be published on the ONC web site. It is expected that the first EHRs will be certified and listed on the ONC web site in fall 2010.


REMEMBER: You do not have to have your certified EHR in place in order to register for the EHR incentive programs. However, you must have adopted, implemented, upgraded or meaningfully use certified EHR technology before you will receive an EHR incentive payment from either Medicare or your State Medicaid Agency. For more information on the years to participate in the program, program requirements and possible incentive payments, link to the Medicare Eligible Professional, Medicaid Eligible Professional or Hospital links on the left.