HHS announces steps toward national health IT development

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Health & Human Services (HHS) Secretary Mike Leavitt this week announced the formation of a national collaboration and four requests for proposals (RFPs) to help develop national access to electronic health records (EMR) within 10 years.

This week's announcement provides a means by which patients, doctors, hospitals, insurance companies, and employers can establish standards for EMR to facilitate interoperability between diverse health systems.

"The national strategy for achieving interoperability of digital health information is for federal agencies -- that pay for more than one-third of all healthcare in the country -- to work with private-sector health care providers and employers in developing and adopting an architecture, standards and certification process," Secretary Leavitt said, according to a release.

"The use of electronic health records and other information technology will transform our healthcare system by reducing medical errors, minimizing paperwork hassles, lowering costs and improving quality of care," Secretary Leavitt said in a release. "We will bring together the public and private healthcare sectors to transform health care as we know it."

A private-public collaboration called the American Health Information Community (AHIC) will be established to help the nationwide transition to electronic health records. The AHIC will be formed under the Federal Advisory Committee Act.

HHS plans to solicit nominations for people to serve on the AHIC. Secretary Leavitt will serve as chairperson and will also appoint as many as 17 commission members. The AHIC will be chartered for two years, but may be renewed for the duration of no more than five years. After this time, the department intends for the AHIC to be succeeded within five years by a private-sector health information community.

HHS will soon issue four RFPs with the objective of creating 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.

Secretary Leavitt noted that HHS will do its part by adopting standards and data-sharing processes for internet-based applications that will help federal programs like Medicaid and Medicare support the use of digital and interoperable health records that are privacy-protected and secure.

The AHIC will have five specific tasks, as described in the release:

  • Make recommendations on how to protect privacy and security.

  • Identify and make recommendations for prioritizing health information technology achievements that will provide immediate benefits to consumers of healthcare (e.g., drug safety, lab results, bio-terrorism surveillance, etc.).
  • Make recommendations regarding the creation of a private-sector, consensus-based, standard-setting and harmonization process, and a separate product certification process.
  • Make recommendations for a nationwide architecture that uses the internet to share health information in a secure and timely manner.
  • Make recommendations on how the AHIC can be succeeded by a private-sector health information community initiative within five years. The sunset of the AHIC, after no more than five years, will be written into the charter.

"We've outlined a powerful vision for heath IT and the steps to achieve the President's goal," said David J. Brailer, MD, PhD, National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, in a release. "The actions announced today build on the evaluation and strategies that we have developed in collaboration with the broad community of healthcare leaders."

More information is available at www.hhs.gov/healthit.