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ONC Announces Five-Year Plan to Improve Health IT Certification Testing Tools

August 4, 2017
by Heather Landi
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The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT announced 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. According to ONC, these tools enable health IT to be repeatedly and rigorously tested relative to its ability to accurately create standardized data files and perform interoperability oriented transactions. In partnership with other federal agencies, ONC has expanded the program’s electronic test tool portfolio, including how comprehensively these tools test standards’ conformance consistent with the additional interoperability requirements included in adopted certification criteria.

In a blog post, Steven Posnack, director of ONC’s Office of Standards and Technology, said the goal to transition the program’s existing testing portfolio was part of its goal to implement the 21st Century Cures Act. In the past seven 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, Posnack wrote, while 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.

“We have set a goal to transition the Program’s existing testing portfolio over the next five years to include as many industry-developed and maintained testing tools as possible in lieu of tax-payer financed testing tools. Achieving this goal will enable the Program to more efficiently focus its testing resources and better align with industry-developed testing tools, which could help support the “real world testing” envisioned by the Cures Act,” Posnack wrote.

He notes that in June, ONC approved the NCQA’s testing method for eCQMs as an alternative to the existing test method used in the ONC Health IT Certification Program. “This approval was a first step toward our five-year goal and is a clear signal that the Program can and will approve industry-developed testing methods.”

Similarly, ONC is actively coordinating with standards development organizations (such as the National Council for Prescription Drug Programs (NCPDP) for e-prescribing testing) and others that administer health IT interoperability testing tools. “These tools could ultimately serve as the sole testing method approved by ONC for use in the Program. Additionally, we envision a future where Program participants, including the ONC-Authorized Testing Labs and Certification Bodies individually, collectively, or through partnerships with the private sector develop testing tools, similarly to what stakeholders do in other industry programs,” Posnack wrote.

What’s more, Posnack said these changes will take time and in some instances could result in new business arrangements and fee structures based on who has invested in the testing tools, the costs to administer them, and the scope and scale at which they could be used, such as, for 2015 Edition certification.

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