Federal agencies must incorporate newly recognized health IT standards

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The Health and Human Services Department (HHS) has formally recognized a set of health IT standards it received a year ago, capping a process established by the Bush administration to create a single set of technical standards for interoperability.

Now that the standards for laboratory results reporting, public health reporting for biosurveillance, and consumers’ management of their own health records, federal agencies are required by an executive order to incorporate them into new systems or upgrades, or to buy products that comply with the standards. Agencies also must require their contractors to do likewise.

Also, products complying with the standards qualify for exception and safe harbor under the Stark and anti-kickback laws. That exception permits hospitals to give EHR systems to doctors.

According to the official notice of the recognition, published in the Jan. 23 Federal Register, over the course of the year there were some changes, described as “minor or of a technical nature.” The notice also states that the Office of the National Coordinator of Health IT will “coordinate and oversee the incorporation of these interoperability specifications in relevant activities among federal agencies and other partner organizations.”

However, the process is expected to affect the technical development of EHRs far beyond the scope of federal government activities.

Meanwhile, the American Health Information Community has approved another set of interoperability standards and specifications drawn up by the Health IT Standards Panel. Those standards, which cover security and privacy issues that apply in numerous instances of health IT, EHRs for use by emergency responders, allowing consumers access to their EHRs and quality monitoring, will now pass to HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt for approval.