HHS to award health-data network contracts by year's end

Series of task orders planned for late 2009

The Health and Human Services Department is planning to award a series of competitive contracts by the end of this year to bring the Nationwide Health Information Network (NHIN) to full production.

NHIN is HHS’ pilot project for demonstrating the secure exchange of patient health data on a network. It is currently being used in a limited fashion by several federal and state agencies, as well as health care providers.

HHS’ Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology announced on Nov. 5 that was seeking to award a sole-source bridge contract now to prepare for the upcoming series of competitive contracts for the NHIN.

Under the bridge contract, the goal is to continue ongoing work on “developing a strategy, program governance, technical requirements, program artifacts, and facilitation processes” to move the NHIN to production readiness and production status, the notice states.

HHS intends to bridge the gap between an existing contract vehicle and an upcoming full and open competition in late 2009, the announcement said.

“This competitive contract process in late 2009 will result in the selection of a set of task order contractors which will provide the range of skills, knowledge, and experience to advance the work toward a full production NHIN,” HHS said.

HHS has been developing NHIN since 2004 to facilitate health information exchange, which is considered an important component in achieving the full benefits of electronic health records, including possibly improved quality, better public health and reduced costs. As currently designed, NHIN would function as a network of networks linking a number of regional health information exchanges.

Congress and the Obama administration provided $20 billion for promotion of electronic health records in the economic stimulus law. About $2 billion will go for health exchanges. HHS faces problems in identifying the best technical standards for secure, interoperable exchanges.

HHS said its role is to create an infrastructure for national exchange of health data, which is the NHIN. Expertise is needed for “programmatic, management, architecture and infrastructure” activities, the notice states.

The bridge contractor will help HHS develop a strategy and governance structure for the NHIN, outline steps needed to move the NHIN to production status; guide stakeholder and workgroup activities; and lead a communications campaign for the NHIN which includes a Web site.

Although HHS intends to negotiate with a sole-source provider for the bridge contract, interested parties may state their concerns and offer their capabilities in written submissions by Nov. 20.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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