HHS to form standards, operability group to spur health IT adoption

HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt today announced the formation of a national collaboration and four requests for proposals as the next steps to advance adoption of health IT.

HHS also has released a summary of principles and strategies that industry has agreed on to develop a national health information exchange.

The public-private organization and the RFPs are meant to provide ways for patients, doctors, hospitals, insurance companies and employers to agree on standards for electronic health records and a path to achieve interoperability so that medical information can be accessed anytime and anywhere.

HHS will spend $86.5 million on health IT in fiscal 2005, and President Bush has requested $125 million for 2006. "Once the market has structure, patients, providers, medical professionals and vendors will innovate, create efficiencies and improve care," Leavitt said in a statement.

The American Health Information Community will be designated to make recommendations to HHS on how to make health records digital, interoperable, confidential and secure.

"The national strategy for achieving interoperability of digital health information is for federal agencies ? [which] pay for more than one-third of all health care in the country ? to work with private-sector health care providers and employers in developing and adopting an architecture, standards and certification process," Leavitt said. HHS will adopt standards and data-sharing processes for Internet-based applications in its Medicaid and Medicare programs.

HHS will seek nominees to serve in the organization, and Leavitt, who will be chairman, will appoint up to 17 members. HHS will charter the organization for two years, with the option to renew for up to five years when the organization sunsets. Subsequently, a private-sector health information community initiative would set additional needed standards, certify new health information technology and provide long-term governance for health care transformation.

HHS will also issue four RFPs to pave the way for interoperability. These RFPs will create processes for setting data standards, certification and architecture for an Internet-based nationwide health information exchange, as well as assess patient privacy and security policies.

An electronic health record is a digital collection of a patient's medical history and could include data such as diagnosed medical conditions, prescribed medications, vital signs, immunizations, lab results, and personal characteristics like age and weight. "The use of electronic health records and other information technology will transform our health care system by reducing medical errors, minimizing paperwork hassles, lowering costs and improving quality of care," Leavitt said.

AHIC will make recommendations:
  • to protect privacy and security

  • to identify and prioritize what health IT capabilities will provide the most immediate benefits to consumers, such as drug safety, lab results and bioterrorism surveillance

  • to create a standard-setting and harmonization process and a separate product certification process.

Mary Mosquera is a staff writer for Washington Technology's sister publication, Government Computer News.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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