The future of health IT: Where is it headed and why?

There have been many changes to the EHR Incentive Programs to help meet the needs of health care organizations and providers. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology recently announced that in the midst of these alterations, it is moving forward with its plans for the 2014 Edition EHR certification criteria. This comes following the ONC's decision to switch gears in September and refrain from implementing the EHR certification for 2015, which it proposed earlier in the year. Many have wondered how this will affect the future of health IT overall.

The final rule
At the beginning of this week, the federal agency allowed the public to comment on the 2014 Edition Release test procedures. The agency also decided to announce plans to include parts of a revised 2014 Edition EHR certification criteria – which will be called either the "2014 Edition Release 2" or "2014 Edition Release 2 EHR certification criteria" – as a component of the recent final rule published in the Federal Register.

According to, the final rule represents the first step in an incremental approach to adopting standards, implementation specifications and certification criteria to enhance the interoperability, functionality, utility and security of health IT, and to support its meaningful use. The rule included revisions catering to the most recent meaningful use objectives and measures. These revisions also work to clarify specific certification criteria to ease difficulties that organizations have reported with particular technological operations related to standards and implementation specifications. 

"This final rule reflects ONC's commitment to continually improve the certification program and respond to stakeholder feedback. It provides more choices for health IT developers and their customers, including new interoperable ways to securely exchange health information," said National Coordinator Karen DeSalvo, M.D., according to EHR Intelligence. "It also serves as a model for ONC to update its rules as technology and standards evolve to support innovation."

CCHIT halts service
The addition of the final rule and the ONC's decision to move forward with the 2014 Edition EHR certification criteria is news that has arrived just as the Certification Commission for Health IT finished its work with the agency. The commission is one of the ONC's primary health IT certification organizations and has halted all health IT certification operations after 10 years of service. 

CCHIT Executive Director Alisa Ray recently explained in a public statement that throughout the past decade, the CCHIT has been supported by volunteers, the board of trustees and commissioners. This support has made the organization a leader in certification services. After servicing both the private and public sectors to boost its goal of accelerating the adoption of effective, interoperable health IT, the decision to end service has left many wondering the reason behind it.

However, according to EHR Intelligence, the news should not come as a surprise, as the CCHIT had launched a new service back in June that helps health IT developers adhere to the ONC's certification requirements. This signified a progressive step away from the role of a certification body authorized by the government.

What does this mean for the future of health IT?
Program and business planning have become difficult for new services. The process of the ONC 2014 Edition certification release has begun to slow, and the uncertainty of the timing regarding the federal health IT program standards has left many holes in the process that these new services have found challenging to get around. The CCHIT's decision to cease service is a result of this uncertainty in the current environment of the industry.

With the CCHIT no longer playing a role in the certification process, the future of EHR certification is currently up in the air. Health care organizations and providers have requested that increased flexibility is incorporated into the meaningful use reporting for the next two years. These demands have created a sticky situation that the ONC may not be capable of freeing itself from.

It is important that when going into the next certification period, experts keep in mind the ideal future of health IT. What organizations and providers need are effective systems that link patients to their doctors, doctors to nurses and care members, doctors to doctors, laboratories to databases, and any other essential connections within the modern health world. According to Kaiser Permanente, the future of EHRs should also include enhanced safety with monitoring equipment to detect computer oversights. This added safety feature will support the structure for patient care and ultimately improve patient and doctor interaction.

Interoperability should also be a key component in the implementation of EHRs. E-scheduling is something that patients should have access to, as well as e-visits, e-referrals, e-test results and electronic messaging with their providers. Not only does this boost interoperability, but these features encourage patients to become more involved and knowledgeable with their current health condition and overall well-being. When constructing major aspects of things like meaningful use standards and the EHR certification process, these underlying goals for the future of health IT should play a vital role.