Hesitations arise about NIST undertaking national health IT

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Last week, at a congressional hearing, four out of five witnesses from various healthcare companies raised concerns about shifting federal health IT responsibilities from the Health and Human Services (HHS) Department to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

In May, Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN), chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee, introduced a bill that would give NIST a leading role in setting standards, developing interoperability and coordinating health IT federal research and development.

When Gordon initially introduced the bill, he said, “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.”

Witnesses at the hearing agreed that progress has been slow and they welcomed some assistance from NIST in aspects of standards harmonization and testing for conformance. Yet, some also praised the Health IT Standards Panel’s achievements in harmonizing conflicting standards, and they urged Gordon to reconsider.

Noel Williams, senior VP and chief information officer of Hospital Corporation of America, testified on behalf of the American Hospital Association and expressed concern that "there are already too many overlapping, duplicative efforts launched by the government to try to speed healthcare IT adoption."

In defense of the bill, Gordon said NIST would not be setting policies, just creating and testing standards.