New bill would tackle health IT, patient data integration

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U.S. Representative Bart Gordon (D-TN) recently introduced legislation (H.R. 2406) that would authorize the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to establish guidelines and procedures through which the healthcare industry would advance efforts to integrate information systems.

"The United States boasts the finest healthcare system in the world, yet doctors and patients still don't have access to comprehensive health information. Healthcare is the fastest growing sector of the U.S. economy, but it's also the only major sector that hasn't fully integrated information technology," said Gordon, who is chair of the House Committee on Science and Technology.

The bill is based on input gathered from industry stake-holders, patient advocates and recommendations from President Bush’s Information Technology Advisory Committee.

"Current federal efforts have made slow progress in this arena and in this age of rapid technological advancement, that's unacceptable. This bill, and the development of interoperability specifications, is the logical first step in deploying and utilizing IT in our health system," said Gordon.

Gordon believes that IT systems must use common standards for data transmission, medical terminology, security and other features.

“If we can establish standards and use technology, we can improve quality of treatment and begin to bring healthcare costs down for hardworking Americans," added Gordon.

H.R. 2406 contains a proposed initiative for healthcare information enterprise integration constructed to builds upon the work already being done by NIST on electronic healthcare records. The initiative would provide NIST with more authority to develop of standards and tests required to ensure that a fully interoperable EHRs.

The bill also would establish a federal healthcare information technology systems infrastructure that would operate in an integrated fashion even more broadly than the systems utilized by the Department of Defense, the Veterans Administration and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

"The federal government has the largest system of healthcare records in use, yet there's been little, if any, progress in the last few years in developing an interoperable system between federal agencies and their transaction partners," said Gordon. "Likewise, no coordinated research is being done in anticipation of the next generation of medical technologies."

The bill includes ear marks for research and development programs that would be developed to anticipate the next generation of healthcare technologies.

The bill has been referred to the Committee on Science and Technology.