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What is a Certified EHR? The Importance of Having an EHR Certification

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This blog was originally published in July 2017 and was updated in March 2024

In the world of healthcare, technology plays a vital role in providing efficient and accurate patient care. One term that often comes up is "EHR certification," but do you know what it really means?

Electronic Health Records (EHR) have transformed the way patient information is stored and shared among healthcare providers. With the increasing reliance on EHR systems, it has become essential for these systems to meet certain standards to ensure their effectiveness and reliability. This is where EHR certification comes into play.

EHR certification is a process that verifies the compliance of electronic health record systems with specific criteria and standards. It ensures that these systems meet the requirements for functionality, security, interoperability, and privacy. Understanding the significance of EHR certification is crucial for both healthcare providers and patients. In this article, we will delve deeper into what EHR certification means and why it matters in the realm of healthcare technology.'

Understanding EHR certification

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has established standards for independent physicians to qualify for the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs. To be eligible for the incentive payments, providers “must use an EHR that is certified specifically for the EHR Incentive Programs.” 

Additionally, CMS states, that EHR certification “helps providers and patients be confident that the electronic health IT products and systems they use are secure, can maintain data confidentially, and can work with other systems to share information.” An EHR system must meet certain standards to be certified. Specifically, the EHR must meet the functional and security requirements and meaningful use criteria established by CMS.

EHR certification criteria

The Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) for Health IT has established a certification program composed of functional requirements known as certification criteria. EHR developers can certify their modules by demonstrating conformance to these criteria, using procedures approved by the National Coordinator. ONC also provides clarifications to the certification criteria in Certification Companion Guides that are designed to assist with product development.

EHR certification is determined by the guidelines established in the 2015 Edition Health IT Certification Criteria, which was recently updated to become the 2015 Edition Cures Update. There are 60 criteria, organized into 8 categories:

  • Electronic Exchange
  • Clinical Processes
  • Care Coordination
  • Clinical Quality Measurement
  • Privacy & Security
  • Patient Engagement
  • Public Health
  • Health IT Design & Performance

Certification supports engagement in clinical practice improvement and care coordination. It is also a requirement for participation in many value-based programs offered by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Certification criteria emphasize the need for interoperability, which is an essential function for various systems to communicate with each other regarding a patient’s care.

Understanding EHR certification criteria also enables you and your independent practice to have access to the tools you need for clinical processes and quality improvement. The criteria ensure that your EHR meets recognized standards and functionality.

Breaking down the 2015 Edition Cures Update

Interoperability, security, and patient access are critical pieces of the criteria, made evident in the changes from the 2015 Edition Health IT Certification Criteria to the 2015 Edition Cures Update, which resulted from the ONC’s 21st Century Cures Act Final Rule.

These updates include the:

  • Introduction of new technical certification criteria to advance interoperability and make it easier for patients to access their electronic health information on their smartphones.
  • Addition of new privacy and security certification criteria.
  • Revision of the standards referenced by several existing 2015 Edition certification criteria, including United States Core Data for Interoperability updates.
  • Removal and time-limiting of several 2015 Edition certification criteria.

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Why is an EHR certification important? 

A certified EHR system comes with a guarantee of operability and assures the independent physician of compliance, reliability, and adherence to industry standards. With meaningful use requirements and incentive payments becoming more significant challenges as CMS moves toward value-based reimbursements, choosing a certified EHR for an independent physician’s practice is imperative.

The benefits of having an EHR certification

CMS outlines the benefits of Certified Electronic Health Record Technology (CEHRT) as being critical to:

  • Improving interoperability by adopting new and updated vocabulary and content standards for the structured capture and exchange of health information, including a Common Clinical Data Set (CCDS) composed primarily of data expressed using adopted standards; and rigorously tested and identified content exchange standards (Consolidated Clinical Document Architecture).
  • Supporting patient care by ensuring that health care data is consistently available to the right person, at the right place, and at the right time through a standards-based electronic exchange.
  • Including “application access” certification criteria that require health IT to demonstrate it can provide application access via an application programming interface (API).
  • Supporting patient electronic access to health information through new functionalities and a range of potential technologies including the use of APIs. These technologies allow patients greater flexibility and choice in how they access and share their health information.
  • Including a revised View, Download, and Transmit criterion that continues to support patients’ access to their health information, including via email transmission to any third party the patient chooses (including to any email address, so long as the patient is properly advised of the risks of doing so) and through a second encrypted method of transmission.

EHR certification process

The EHR certification process ensures that systems meet the necessary standards for security, functioning, data sharing, and privacy. It helps healthcare providers offer high-quality, efficient, and safe care using certified EHR technology.

Step 1: Preparation

EHR developers begin by preparing their systems for certification. They check the system's features to ensure it meets certification requirements, focusing on security, data sharing, and patient involvement. This step is crucial for supporting healthcare with certified EHR technology.

Step 2: Testing

The second step in the EHR certification process involves comprehensive testing by ONC-Authorized Certification Bodies (ONC-ACBs) or ONC-approved testing labs. This phase evaluates the EHR systems against stringent standards for interoperability, security, and overall functionality. This step is key because it ensures the EHR system can safely keep and share health info. Ultimately, it supports healthcare providers in offering effective care with certified EHR technology.

Step 3: Certification

If an EHR system passes all tests, it receives a certification. This certification can apply to the entire system or to specific parts. Completing this step affirms that the EHR system meets the strict standards needed for certified EHR technology in healthcare. Now with the ability to deliver efficient, compliant, and effective care, achieving this certification marks a significant milestone.

Step 4: Ongoing Compliance

To maintain certification, EHR developers must ensure ongoing compliance with the certification requirements. This entails regular updates and possibly recertification processes to keep up with evolving standards and regulations. This ongoing work is necessary to ensure the EHR system consistently meets the needs of healthcare providers and patients.

Challenges with EHR certification standards

Sticking to the EHR certification standards can be tough for healthcare providers and EHR developers. These standards are important because they ensure EHR systems provide high-quality, efficient patient care and comply with regulatory mandates. However, understanding these standards and keeping up with changes in healthcare technology can be challenging.

Lack of clarity and changes

Trying to meet EHR certification standards can be difficult. Reporting requirements often lack clarity and undergo frequent changes, making adherence challenging. Moreover, these challenges in clarity often require significant administrative time and resources to navigate, further diverting attention away from patient care.

Evolving requirements

The healthcare regulatory landscape is in a state of constant evolution. The rules and standards keep changing as technology and healthcare practices get better. To meet ever-changing certification standards, EHR developers and healthcare providers must be vigilant and adjust their systems accordingly.

Maintaining EHR certification requires keeping up with these developments. But, it is also key to delivering the highest quality of patient care through technology.

The significance of Drummond Group certification in the EHR Industry

Certification is achieved when a company such as the Drummond Group assesses the capability of the tested product and determines that it meets all the established criteria.  Drummond Group began testing their first EHR solutions in September 2010, and since then has tested hundreds of EHR systems. A Drummond Certified Seal serves as an important resource for independent providers and healthcare organizations who are looking to invest in EHR software and who need to meet the meaningful use criteria.

When Drummond applies its seal, it guarantees that the EHR meets industry standards and that it is interoperable, a very important function for primary care physicians and specialty providers. An EHR system cannot receive the Drummond seal without undergoing rigorous testing. The Drummond Group tests the EHR throughout its lifecycle including auditing, quality assurance, conformance testing, customer software test lab services, software certification, web service tests, and consulting.

Elation offers a CEHRT-compliant EHR system for solo physicians and primary care enterprises

Having a certified EHR is not just a checkbox on a list of requirements; it's a game-changer for healthcare providers. It means you're utilizing technology to its fullest potential, improving patient care and outcomes, and staying ahead in the ever-evolving field of healthcare. So, if you haven't already, make sure to get your EHR certified and unlock the future of efficient and effective healthcare!

Our CEHRT-compliant EHR system is HIPAA-compliant, ONC-certified, and customizable to your practice’s needs. Whether you’re a solo physician looking for an easy-to-maintain system or a large primary care enterprise with complex EHR requirements, Elation EHR is the ideal solution. Learn more about our EHR platform, as well as our solutions for enterprises, and request a demo of Elation EHR today!