The certification rules have gone final less than two months before the start of the 2011 fiscal year in October.
During that year hospitals and clinics who want the cash have to install and use EMRs, that gear has to be certified, and they have to prove meaningful use, for the hassle to become worth it.
It's going to be a long year.
The rules are available from the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Web site.
Software has to pass 45 tests, mainly covering things like encryption, access management and reporting. In other words this isn't as much about speeds-and-feeds as it is about management process.
There are some compatibility tests, and there is some good news there, as National Coordinator for Health IT (NCHIT) David Blumenthal says most states are collecting the right sets of data into their systems, so relatively minor tweaks will be needed by an Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) committee.
The government standards are based on existing schema like HL7 interoperability and X12, a set of Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) standards for moving money.The HIMSS trade group is still trying to be a certification authority.
What that means is that if an Electronic Medical Record (EMR) system already meets standards found in the field, certification is mainly a matter of getting through the line which every other vendor has crowded onto.
All this is typical of how many Obama programs are working. They move slowly, deliberately, professionally, competently, but so slowly that private actors will have a hard time meeting their deadlines, and the industry is left in utter confusion as to what is expected of them.