ONC Clarification of "Certified EHR Technology" Raises Questions for Providers Seeking EHR Incentive Funds for 2011

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A recent clarification issued by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (the "ONC") has raised issues about the ability of many providers to meet "meaningful use" attestation deadlines (and thus receive EHR incentive payments) for the 2011 period. In a surprise to many providers, the ONC has issued a revised "Frequently Asked Questions" guidance document (an "FAQ") stating, in essence, that all providers will need to possess a "Complete EHR Technology" in order for that technology to be considered "Certified." Providers who had planned to purchase module technology, rather than a "Complete" EHR system, need to carefully consider the ONC's clarified position.

From the inception of the government's electronic health record ("EHR") incentive program, it has been clear that a requirement for the use of "Certified" EHR technology would play a central role in providers' demonstrations of meaningful use. Following the issuance of a much revised (and much softened) final rule, however, many providers understood that they had the option of purchasing either a "Complete" EHR, which may cost more up front, but had the potential to ease compliance with the latter stages of the meaningful use requirements, or to purchase certified "modules" (essentially, individual EHR functionalities amenable to individual, independent implementation). Many providers, concerned with either spreading the costs of a new EHR system over time or with ensuring their system is created to meet only existing standards (with the intention of adding on Stage 2 functionalities, for instance, only when Stage 2 requirements are finalized) planned to purchase only the certified modules necessary to meet the core and "menu set" objectives they intended to implement to demonstrate Stage 1 meaningful use. The ONC's recent clarifications indicate that is not an acceptable means of possessing a "Certified EHR Technology."

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