Health IT


Alice Lipowicz

Health IT

By Alice Lipowicz

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HHS' Blumenthal disputes rumors on health IT spying

Although the Health and Human Services Department is collaborating with the Justice Department on a terminology and process for nationwide health data exchange, a senior HHS official recently denied Internet-based rumors that health data might be funneled to law enforcement or spy agencies.

Dr. David Blumenthal, HHS’ national coordinator for health information technology, rejected speculation that is popping up in Internet blogs that the HHS’ Nationwide Health Information Network (NHIN) may transfer any patient data or control over data to federal agencies such as the CIA, FBI or National Security Agency.

According to a March 30 report in Modern Healthcare, Blumenthal talked about the speculation at the March 24 meeting of the Health IT Standards Committee. The panel advises HHS on economic stimulus funding for health IT.

The topic of discussion there was HHS’ testing of Justice’s National Information Exchange Model (NIEM), for possible use in a version of the NHIN. The NIEM is a process by which the Justice Department worked with law enforcement and other responder agencies following the 9/11 terrorist attacks to develop information sharing, including adopting common terminology and technical standards.

I quickly did a Google search hoping to turn up signs of these alleged rumors about the NHIN and NIEM collaboration, but I was unsuccessful in finding anything but a few scattered blog comments.

Blumenthal, I am sure, hoped to put the speculation to rest, but there is always a risk when a prominent official gives attention to random comments in cyberspace. In my experience as a journalist, I’ve seen that any kind of attention, good or bad, has the potential to stoke the fires.

Posted on Apr 01, 2010 at 7:25 PM0 comments


VA/DOD center might offer lessons for health IT

In six months, the Veterans Affairs and Defense departments will open their first fully integrated integrated federal health center. It could offer some unique lessons for health record integration.

Unlike other sharing agreements that link VA and DOD medical facilities, the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago is one-of-a-kind because it was authorized by Congress to function as a single entity, said Jonathan Friedman, public affairs officer for the facility. “This has never been done before.”

The $370 million medical center is comprised of 53 buildings, including a new $130 million ambulatory care building under construction. It will serve veterans, active duty military and the service members’ families, including children.

The wide range of potential patients is one reason that Friedman, to help publicize the project, set up a Facebook fan page for the center in August 2009. The center’s Facebook page has about 130 fans and numerous postings of construction photographs.

Even so, many people have questions about the project, mostly due to its unusual nature. “People are trying to figure out who we are and what we are doing,” Friedman said. “We have a lot of information to get out.”

My question is: How fully integrated will the electronic health record systems be? It will be interesting to see if the North Chicago integration project has any lessons for the VA and DOD’s Interagency office working on interoperability of their record systems, and for the Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record project that aims to create a single lifetime health record for each service member/veteran.

The combined center has been in planning and development since 2002. Under the fiscal 2003 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress required DOD and the VA to establish a joint incentive program to demonstrate opportunities to improve access and quality of care by sharing.

The National Defense Authorization Act of 2010 specifically authorized the integration of the North Chicago VA Medical Center and the DOD’s Naval Health Clinic Great Lakes into a single medical health care system.

The final phase of the integration is the DOD’s construction of a $130 million new ambulatory care center adjacent to the North Chicago VA Medical Center.

On the Facebook page, which has about 126 fans, sponsors have posted dozens of photographs and four videos. The official sponsor of the medical center’s fan page is not listed.

Posted on Mar 30, 2010 at 7:25 PM0 comments


FCC claims a role in health IT policy

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released its National Broadband Plan last week and, lo and behold, there was a big section that highlighted health information technology and telehealth applications.

I wasn't the only observer curious about the FCC's claim of a lead role in federal policy for health technologies. It is mostly a secondary role, as many of the FCC’s recommended actions would need to be undertaken by the Health and Human Services Department and other agencies.

“What is striking is that the strong advocates for telemedicine in this administration are those involved in technology, economic development and telecommunications policy,” Jonathan Linkous, chief executive of the American Telemedicine Association, told me. “Unfortunately, the health reform leaders have given short shrift to telemedicine. That is why many of the health recommendations are targeted to HHS.”

What didn't make it into the FCC plan? Linkous said he would have liked to see specific recommendations for expanding Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements for telehealth and telemedicine. Nor did he see a hoped-for federal inter-agency coordinating body for telemedicine.

Another interesting point is the FCC’s use of the term “e-care” to describe a variety of products and services including telehealth, telemedicine, MHealth and Mobile health. A quick search of Google reveals that e-care is by far the most popular term. However, recent budget documents issued by the Veterans Affairs Department and other federal agencies primarily have used the terms “telehealth” and “telemedicine” for their programs.

“There are many, many names attached to telemedicine: telehealth, e-care, telecare, etc.,” Linkous said. “We long ago recognized that the name doesn’t matter.”

I’m not sure about that. One of the signs that telemedicine, or e-care, or whatever you want to call it, is maturing as an industry is that there will be basic agreement on what to call it.  Until then, there may be some confusion.

Posted on Mar 22, 2010 at 7:25 PM0 comments


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