ONC To Farm Out Certification Testing To Private Sector – MACRA Monday

Posted on August 14, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

This post is part of the MACRA Monday series of blog posts where we dive into the details of the MACRA Quality Payment Program (QPP) and related topics.

EHR certification has been a big part of the meaningful use program and is now part of MACRA as well. After several years of using health IT certification testing tools developed by government organizations, the ONC has announced plans to turn the development of these tools over to the private sector.

Since its inception, ONC has managed its health IT’s education program internally, developing automated tools designed to measure health IT can compliance with certification requirements in partnership with the CDC, CMS and NIST. However, in a new blog post, Office of Standards and Technology director Steven Posnack just announced that ONC would be transitioning development of these tools to private industry over the next five years.

In the post, Posnack said that farming out tool development would bring diversity to certification effort and help it perform optimally. “We have set a goal…to include as many industry-developed and maintained testing tools as possible in lieu of taxpayer financed testing tools,” Posnack wrote. “Achieving this goal will enable the Program to more efficiently focus its testing resources and better aligned with industry-developed testing tools.”

Readers, I don’t have any insider information on this, but I have to think this transition was spurred (or at least sped up) by the eClinicalWorks certification debacle.  As we reported earlier this year, eCW settled a whistleblower lawsuit for $155 million a few months ago;  in the suit, the federal government asserted that the vendor had gotten its EHR certified by faking its capabilities. Of course the potential cuts to ONC’s budget could have spurred this as well.

I have no reason to believe that eCW was able to beat the system because ONC’s certification testing tools were inadequate. As we all know, any tool can be tricked if you throw the right people at the problem. On the other hand, it can’t hurt to turn tool development over to the private sector. Of course, I’m not suggesting that government coders are less skilled than private industry folks (and after all, lots of government technology work is done by private contractors), but perhaps the rhythms of private industry are better suited to this task.

It’s worth noting that this change is not just cosmetic. Poznack notes that with private industry at the helm, vendors may need to enter into new business arrangements and assume new fees depending on who has invested in the testing tools, what it costs to administer them and how the tools are used.

However, I’d be surprised if private sector companies that develop certification arrangements will stay tremendously far from the existing model. Health IT vendors may want to get their products certified, but they’re likely to push back hard if private companies jack up the price for being evaluated or create business structures that don’t work.

Honestly, I’d like to see the ONC stay on this path. I think it works best as a sort of think tank focused on finding best practices health IT companies across government and private industry, rather than sweating the smaller stuff as it has in recent times. Otherwise, it’s going to stay bogged down in detail and lose whatever thought leadership position it may have.