ONC Approves NCQA’s Alternative Electronic Clinical Quality Measure (eCQM) testing method


Eric Rosow
Chief Executive Officer, Diameter Health

On June 19th the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) approved the National Center for Quality Assurance (NCQA) electronic clinical quality measure (eCQM) testing method as an alternative to the existing test method used in the ONC Health IT Certification Program.

This achievement is significant. NCQA is the first industry-developed testing method for health information technology (health IT) approved by ONC. And, NCQA’s intention to become an ONC Authorized Test Lab (ATL) for electronic quality measure testing means that, once approved, organizations that use NCQA’s methodology will not only receive NCQA certification, but will also obtain test results that can be used to be certified by the ONC Authorized Certification Body (ONC-ACB) for the same measures.

So, “hats off” to the NCQA and ONC for working together to achieve this milestone.   In one sense, joint certification standards support the continuing pursuit of information interoperability by enabling test results to be generated once and then re-used for multiple purposes.  To quote Steven Posnack, director of the ONC’s Office of Standards and Technology, “…re-use of test results would facilitate health care providers’ participation in state-based programs and other CMS programs, like getting automatic full credit in the “Improvement Activities” category that’s part of the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS).”

That’s a proactive response to Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price’s observation during his Senate confirmation hearings that “We’ve turned physicians and other providers into data entry clerks.” Clearly, rationalizing certification protocols and encouraging re-use is a step toward simplifying quality reporting, taking unnecessary expense out of the system, and putting more focus on patients.

The next frontier is using eCQM data for performance measurement, specifically, to enable use of certified clinical data as standard supplemental data.  The benefits of such an approach accrue to both providers and payers, most notably by reducing manual chart reviews.  Chart reviews are time-consuming and expensive, and using certified information technology frees up resources that could otherwise be put to more productive use.

All in all, a measurable step forward for effective public-private partnerships, and a model for innovations that can bring down costs and improve the quality of healthcare.

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