The difference between certification and meaningful use

differenceHealth care providers often ask why they should implement their organization’s preferred electronic health record (EHR) when a less expensive option promises to meet meaningful use standards. The answer lies in difference between certification and meaningful use—two concepts worth reviewing.

Meaningful use refers to the way documentation and data exchange can enhance efficiency and quality among providers, payers, and patients. As a result, meaningful use is not about products, but about processes. It’s about how data flows through an entire system of stakeholders. Thus, it can be argued that vendors should not be making claims about meaningful use.

Certification, on the other hand, refers to a product’s features—something a vendor can make claims about.

The problem is, we don’t yet have final certification criteria.  The certification process will be defined in a December 2009 “notice of proposed rulemaking” (NPRM). However, a period of comment will follow, so we won’t have the final definition until the spring. As a result, we’d argue that it’s too early for any vendor to claim its product will meet all certification criteria.

So, what should you look for in a EHR today? Until certification is defined, a vendor can claim that its product conforms with the latest Certification Commission for Health Information Technology (CCHIT) criteria—the best indicator of functionality we have at the moment. And, a vendor can promise that it will modify its product to meet certification standards when they are released—which allows you to purchase an EHR today and begin reaping the benefits sooner.

Keep these things in mind as you decide which EHR to use.

Related articles: Certification versus meaningful use

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