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ICSA Labs ready to take EHR certification, interoperability reins

Brian Eastwood | March 7, 2014
ICSA Labs, an independent division of Verizon, is now the largest government-approved EHR testing and certification body. The organization has aspirations beyond meaningful use, though, and hopes to drive healthcare IT vendors toward interoperability and innovation.

When the Certification Commission for Health Information Technology announced its exit from the EHR certification business, it cited an inability to make "a sustainable business" in an uncertain EHR market that many vendors (i.e., potential customers of CCHIT) may be leaving.

CCHIT's announcement, which sees the organization shifting its focus toward providing policy guidance to healthcare providers and vendors, hit healthcare hard. After all, CCHIT was both the first and the largest organization authorized in the Office of the National Coordinator's Health IT Certification Program, which establishes which EHR systems meet the guidelines of the meaningful use incentive program.

To help ease concerns about the void it was leaving, CCHIT encourages its customers to work with ICSA Labs for both testing and certification purposes. ICSA Labs, an independent division of Verizon, is well-positioned as a "good place for customers to get a soft landing," according to Managing Director George P. Japak.

'Proficiency' in Product Certification Serves ICSA Labs Well
Started in 1989, ICSA Labs got its start testing IT security products, says Japak, who spoke with at the Health Information and Management Systems Society's HIMSS 2014 conference. These initial offerings included traditional network and endpoint products such as firewalls and VPNs, as well as network attached peripherals such as copy machines and video equipment. Over time, this focus grew to encompass mobile device and mobile application testing - the latter of which Japak describes as "an area fraught with problems and with growing implications in healthcare."

Following CCHIT's exit, ICSA Labs serves as one of five EHR testing laboratories and three EHR certification bodies. (Systems must be tested, and approved, before they can be certified.) In addition, ICSA Labs has partnered with the Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise (IHE) organization to create the IHE USA Certification Program for products that meet healthcare IT interoperability standards.

ICSA Labs has issued certifications in accordance with ISO standards since 2004, Japak says. Its experience with interoperability, meanwhile, dates back to late 1990s, when it helped the Automotive Industry Action Group connect 40,000 trading partners that met industry standards, but nonetheless couldn't share information.

When it comes to meeting the needs of EHR certification, Japak says, "We were accustomed to the rigor and necessary focus on executing these tests, and having that type of proficiency has served us well."

EHR Interoperability Key Challenge for Healthcare
Interoperability plays an important role in the later stages of meaningful use as well as in the recently released voluntary 2015 EHR certification criteria, which are not tied to meaningful use.

Here, ICSA Labs sees its work with IHE as playing a pivotal role. The 2015 certification criteria, for example, propose a requirement that EHR systems first receive continuity of care document (CCD) messages from other EHRs at a 95 percent success rate and then present the XML in human-readable format, says Michelle Knighton, ICSA Lab's program manager for healthcare. The IHE's work, including its annual Connectathon interoperability testing events, focuses on solving such problems.


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