HHS budgeted for healthy information systems

The Department of Health and Human Services' 2001 budget that tops $420 billion includes $20 million earmarked to improve patient care and health outcomes through information technology.

The Health Informatics Initiative aims to ensure that the agency's health information and information systems are coordinated, prioritized and protected.

The initiative includes seven focus areas:

* Developing, adopting and implementing national data standards.

* Assuring secure and confidential electronic transmission of health information within public health care systems.

* Strengthening confidentiality protection.

* Enhancing the capacity of federal, state and local partners to participate in future health information systems.

* Developing improved methods and tools.

* Providing public access to relevant health data.

* Investigating the potential uses of IT in reducing deaths and injuries from medical errors.

HHS is finalizing the data standards from the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, which gave the department new authority with regard to electronic transmissions of health information, but is focused on the Health Care Financing Administration's oversight of Medicare and Medicaid. However all HHS agencies are included in this initiative, which will build on the HIPAA standards and expand them, said a senior HHS official.

"We want to build on and then go beyond the HIPAA confidentiality standards," he said. "We're drawing all the pieces together into an overall position and strategy to use the information technology and resources that businesses and other organizations are already benefiting from. This [initiative] builds on the foundation of the HIPAA data standards but is a broader strategy in a more comprehensive framework."

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