DEA Electronic Prescription of Controlled Substances – Certification Clarification

DEA Electronic Prescription of Controlled Substances – Certification Clarification

On October 16th, 2011 the DEA released a series of clarifications regarding the requirements for Electronic Prescriptions of Controlled Substances (EPCS). While overall this clarification was very helpful and confirmed the comprehensive nature of the certification process, it did introduce / revive a concept that triggered several calls and inquiries. More specifically, DEA listed a company that has been certified to conduct DEA EPCS Certifications, which raised excellent questions:

  • Why is NetSPI not listed on their website? (Answer: We don’t need to be; we meet other requirements that make us qualified certifiers)

  • Is NetSPI allowed to certify our application before you are listed on DEA’s website? (Answer: Yes)

According to 21 CFR 1311.300(a), there are two alternative processes for achieving the necessary qualifications:

  1. “A third-party audit conducted by a person qualified to conduct a SysTrust, WebTrust or SAS 70 audit or a Certified Information System Auditor as stated in 21 CFR 1311.300(b), which comports with the requirements of paragraphs (c) and (d) of 21 CFR 1300.300” or
  2. “A certification by a certifying organization whose certification process has been approved by DEA”

Therefore, the certification process emphasized within the clarification is simply one of the alternatives, and is in no way required or mandatory. While the principal consultant involved with the EPCS Certification is a Certified Information System Auditor (CISA) in good standing, there should not be any issues with qualifications. Experience with SysTrust, WebTrust, or the slightly outdated SAS-70 (in my opinion) are more a derivative of training provided by ISACA as part of CISA. The bigger question would be whether having appropriate qualifications is the only measure by which you should select your certifying agent. This is where things like experience with certifying applications in other standards, experience in healthcare, and understanding of software development lifecycle can be significant differentiating factors. Certainly, like with any other regulatory standard, there will be (perhaps already are) many low-cost, rubber-stamp firms that might get you the certification letter you are seeking. They may let you replace application controls with policies and documentation, conduct the whole assessment by phone, and turn the whole certification process around in 24 hours. However, obtaining the certification is only the first step in the long journey of maintaining DEA EPCS compliance. If your client decides that your application does not meet requirements or is in violation of EPCS, you will have to investigate all such claims and if confirmed, announce to all of your customers that they can no longer use your application to prescribe or accept electronic prescriptions of controlled substances. (21 CFR 1311.302) While it may seem appealing to take a run at getting through the certification fast, trust me, taking this shortcut is not a good idea, and any perceived savings of time and money will likely come back to haunt you in the future. Going for the low-cost auditor in this case may actually be the most expensive option.