State CIOs want bigger role in health IT opportunity

State Chief Information Officers ought to move quickly to assert a key role in deploying health information technology under the economic stimulus law in their states, according to a new report from the National Association of State Chief Information Officers.

“State CIOs must establish themselves as critical stakeholders now, so that they may help craft the policies that will affect their offices,” states the NASCIO report, dated August 2009.

The stimulus law "essentially merged health policy with technology policy across state government and state CIOs must play a key role in health information exchange development and implementation,” NASCIO said in the 14-page report.

Under the law, Congress approved up to $45 billion in Medicare and Medicaid incentives to doctors and hospitals who buy and meaningfully use certified Electronic Health Records systems. Another $2 billion is being distributed to foster health information exchanges, in which providers share patient data with government agencies and with each other. The Commerce and Agriculture departments are providing grants for broadband services, which may be a component of health IT deployment, especially in rural areas. The Health and Human Services Department is now trying to assess the status of such exchanges around the country.

HHS on Aug. 20 announced the availability of $564 million in grants to state governments to promote health information exchanges.

State CIOs should get involved in several broad areas, NASCIO recommends in its report:

  • Preparing an environmental scan of existing health-related legacy systems in state agencies and across the state.
  • Linking up with federal, state and local health IT stakeholders.
  • Plugging into existing health IT data exchange opportunities if they are available.

NASCIO recommends that CIOs prepare to be flexible and “wear multiple hats” to improve their state’s readiness to meet health IT goals including convening state agencies, providing leadership, engaging in risk management, and determining which existing health IT systems may require remediation.

The NASCIO report, titled “HITECH in the States: An Action List for State CIOs,” was released on its Web site Aug. 18. HITECH (Health IT for Economic and Clinical Health Act) is the section of the economic stimulus law that contains health IT provisions.