The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT’s (ONC) recent announcement that it will transition to using industry-developed tools for its certification program was met with praise by the Health IT Now coalition—a group that has been critical of ONC in the past.
Last week, as Healthcare Informatics reported, ONC said that it plans to transition, over a five-year period, its health IT certification program to include testing tools developed by the healthcare industry rather than relying on tools financed by taxpayer dollars.
ONC’s Health IT Certification Program has been in place since 2010, and central to the program has been the use of electronic, automated testing tools for health IT products and systems. In past years, ONC and its partner agencies have made substantial investments with taxpayer dollars to develop and maintain the program’s testing tools free of charge to the health IT community, noted Steven Posnack, director of ONC’s Office of Standards and Technology, in a blog post last week. However, regulations permit private sector organizations, such as health IT developers, to also provide testing tools that could replace the testing infrastructure that the program currently supports. ONC believes a diverse mix of testing tools can help optimize the certification experience, according to Posnack.
Following the announcement, Health IT Now (HITN), a coalition of healthcare providers, patient advocates, consumers, employers, and payers who support the adoption and use of health IT, said in a statement that they have been pushing for these reforms since implementation of meaningful use began; most recently sending a letter to HHS Secretary Tom Price urging the administration to “[g]ive priority to standards and implementation specifications developed by consensus-based standards development organizations,” nothing that “[f]ocusing on standards used in the private sector is essential to reaching interoperability.”
Health IT Now Executive Director Joel White said, “We are pleased to see ONC responding in kind. We should have been doing this all along. We believe these reforms, supported by the 21st Century Cures Act, will improve interoperability by ensuring testing tools are developed by those who know what works in everyday industry practice. Further, this shift can eliminate waste by preventing ONC from duplicating what private sector entities can do more effectively. Already, ONC has partnered with stakeholders like the National Council for Prescription Drug Programs (NCPDP) to successfully put industry-developed standards to use. We encourage ONC to continue and broaden this effort moving forward.”
The coalition has been critical of the federal health IT agency in the past, particularly regarding ONC’s role in directly reviewing certified health IT products and giving itself more direct oversight of health IT testing labs.