HHS authorizes first firms to certify electronic health record systems

The Obama administration on Monday named the first two companies with the power to approve the electronic health record (EHR) systems soon to be required of all providers.

The Chicago-based Certification Commission for Health Information Technology and the Drummond Group Inc. of Austin, Texas, can begin certifying the products of EHR vendors "immediately," said David Blumenthal, the Department of Health and Human Services’s (HHS) national coordinator for health information technology. 

"This is a crucial step," Blumenthal said in a statement, "because it ensures that certified EHR products will be available to support the achievement of the required meaningful use objectives, that these products will be aligned with one another on key standards, and that doctors and hospitals can invest with confidence in these certified systems."

As providers move toward mandatory adoption of EHR systems, HHS created an incentive program designed to encourage the transition. That program — created as part of last year's economic stimulus bill — offers physicians up to $44,000 in Medicare incentives, and almost $64,000 in incentives through Medicaid. Hospitals, meanwhile, are eligible to receive millions of dollars. 

To be eligible for the payments, providers must not only purchase the new equipment, but also meet a series of "meaningful use" benchmarks — standards designed to ensure that the systems aren't just collecting dust, but are being utilized to improve patient care.

Certification is the first step of the process, designed to ensure that EHR systems are up to the task of enabling providers to meet the meaningful use standards.