A First Step to Diversify the Certification Program’s Testing Portfolio

Two years ago the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) published a notice in the Federal Register (and accompanying blog post) that restated the ONC Health IT Certification Program’s (Program’s) open policy regarding the submission of testing methods for approval under the Program.

We called and the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) answered.

Currently all of the testing tools developed and used as part of the ONC Health IT Certification Program are government supported. A diverse mix of testing tools, including those developed in partnership with or solely administered by industry, can help optimize the certification experience.

Through regulatory flexibility designed to approve industry-led testing approaches, we enable a form of reciprocity that can amplify the impact of testing and allow test results to be generated once and used for multiple purposes. That flexibility also enables state-of-the-art, specialized testing approaches to be included as they become available.

On Monday, June 19th, the National Coordinator formally approved NCQA’s electronic clinical quality measure (eCQM) testing method as an alternative to the existing test method (i.e., testing with Cypress) used in the ONC Health IT Certification Program. This milestone is significant not only because it marks the first time that an industry-developed testing method for health information technology (health IT) has been approved by ONC for use in the Program but because NCQA also intends to apply to become an ONC-Authorized Testing Lab (ONC-ATL).

If NCQA is ultimately granted ONC-ATL status, it would mean that the test results NCQA generates could be used by health IT developers for applicable ONC Health IT Certification Program eCQM certification criteria and in NCQA programs (like NCQAs Recognition Program for Patient-Centered Medical Home (PCMH)). This efficient reuse of test results would facilitate health care providers’ participation in state-based programs and other Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) programs, like getting automatic full credit in the “Improvement Activities” category that’s part of the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS).

The approval of NCQA’s eCQM testing method is a first step toward further diversifying the suite of test methods used as part of the ONC Health IT Certification Program. Together, we can continue to make the certification process more efficient for developers and ultimately, more effective for the providers who use their health IT to care for patients.

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