Editor's Note: Getting Connected

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Just as we were putting the wraps on this month’s Top 25 Connected Healthcare Facilities awards, health IT and interoperability were making headlines again. This time it’s interoperablility and President Bush’s recently signed executive order that looks to boost health IT adoption by directing federal agencies that administer or support most health insurance programs to implement “interoperable” technology standards when buying new or upgrading equipment. The order defines interoperability as the “ability to communicate and exchange data accurately, effectively, securely, and consistently with different information technology systems, software applications, and networks in various settings, and exchange data such that clinical or operational purpose and meaning of the data are preserved and unaltered.”

The order also requires that agencies — which cover healthcare for 125 million Americans (40 percent of the nation’s healthcare bill) — provide clear quality measurements and pricing information and create incentive programs to improve healthcare.

Agencies are suppose to comply with the order on Jan. 1, 2007, but exactly how the order will be implemented is unclear. HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt said the move creates a huge market incentive for health IT without regulating the industry. “The market begins to organize itself” to improve care and boost efficiency, he said. He also estimated that 85 percent of all healthcare records are still paper-based.

But what standards will be used? No one is exactly sure. A likely choice is the standards in development by the Health Information Technology Standards Panel, private-public collaboration.

State-level initiatives to improve quality, safety and efficiency via health IT are underway in bills in 38 state legislatures. The eHealth Initiative this summer said 36 bills passed in 24 states were signed into law in 2005 and 2006. U.S. governors in 10 states have issued executive orders aimed at using health IT and health information exchange to improve health and healthcare.

The truth be told, the industry has to formulate and gain consensus on common interoperability standards so healthcare can seamlessly, effectively communicate. And whatever the vehicle that gets us there, we’ll cheer. It’s all about getting connected. And our Top 25 Connected Healthcare Facilities are leading the charge. Congratulations!