Certification versus Meaningful Use


Recently, clinicians have asked me “why should I implement my organization’s preferred EHR when I’ve found a less expensive vendor that promises meaningful use?”

This illustrates a basic misunderstanding of the difference between Certification and Meaningful Use.

The certification process will be codified in a December 2009 Notice of Proposed Rulekmaking (NPRM) and will define the process for certifying electronic health records including modular and open source approaches. (The Standards for data exchange will be codified in a December 2009 Interim Final Rule and become law immediately.) We know that ONC will specify certification criteria and that NIST will oversee certification conformance testing which will be performed by multiple organizations. However, we will not have the final certification criteria or the defined process until Spring after a period of comment on the NPRM.

Meaningful Use is about electronic documentation to enhance quality/efficiency and actual data exchange among payers, providers and patients. The definition of meaningful use will be codified in a December 2009 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. We will not have the final meaningful use criteria until Spring after a period of comment on the NPRM.

Thus, it is too early for any software company to declare their product will meet all Certification criteria. In the
interim, a vendor can claim product conformance with the latest CCHIT criteria, which is the best indicator of functionality we have at the moment.

Meaningful Use is not about products but about processes – how the software is used and how data flows in an ecosystem of stakeholders. Vendors should not be making claims about meaningful use.

Take a look at the data exchanges in the August 2009 recommendations for meaningful use:

  • ePrescribing
  • Sending reminders to patients
  • Checking insurance eligibility
  • Submitting claims
  • Providing patients with an electronic copy of their record
  • Providing patients electronic access to their records
  • Capability to exchange key clinical information (e.g., problem list, medication list, allergies, test results) among care providers and patient authorized entities
  • Capability to submit data to immunization registries
  • Capability to provide syndromic surveillance data to public health agencies

To achieve these 9 data exchanges, multiple sending and receiving parties need to participate.

In the case of Beth Israel Deaconess, achieving this level of interoperability by 2011 will require that we focus on a
small number of software vendors. Over time, as standards and implementation guides become more specific and widely implemented, it will be easier to add additional vendors. However for now, we are focusing on getting the work done with our home built EHR and one purchased EHR (eClinicalWorks). Given scope, time, and resources, there is no way we can implement all 9 data exchanges among payers, providers and patients with another purchased EHR in time for Stimulus funding.

Thus, as you make decisions about what EHR to use, remember that certification describes the features of a product.
Meaningful use describes actual data capture and exchange among multiple stakeholders in an entire healthcare ecosystem.

Products may be certified in a single clinician office, but meaningful use “takes a village”. It cannot be promised by a vendor.

John D. Halamka, MD, MS, is CIO of the CareGroup Health System, CIO and Dean for Technology at Harvard Medical School, Chairman of the New England Health Electronic Data Interchange Network (NEHEN), CEO of MA-SHARE, Chair of the US Healthcare Information Technology Standards Panel (HITSP), and a practicing emergency physician. He blogs regularly at Life as a Healthcare CEO, where this post first appeared.

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