A new health policy brief from Health Affairs and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation explains the new federal Electronic Health Record Standards. Hospitals, doctors, and other clinicians can soon start receiving incentive payments under Medicare and Medicaid for making "meaningful use" of electronic health records (EHRs).

But before that can happen, the information technology systems they use must be capable of accomplishing specific objectives. These systems also must be certified as being interoperable, which means they use uniform standards so that patient records can be shared appropriately and securely.

The policy brief outlines the process of certifying the functionality, reliability, and security of electronic health records; the upfront investments providers will have to make to install systems or upgrade existing software in order to be approved; and other efforts that may lie ahead.