Agencies work e-gov health standards

Several agencies are coordinating the use of the first set of uniform standards for the electronic exchange of health information to be used across the federal government.

The departments of Health and Human Services, Defense and Veterans Affairs announced March 21 the effort to standardize the information exchange, part of the Consolidated Health Informatics (CHI) initiative, one of the Bush administration's 24 e-government initiatives.

The standards, including privacy and security protections, will make it easier for health care providers to share patient information and identify emerging public health threats. It will also facilitate the creation of portable electronic medical records.

"With appropriate privacy protections for personal health information, consumers and patients will benefit when their health information is available to their doctors and other health care providers when it is needed such as the emergency room," HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said in a statement.

Under the new standards, agencies will use a common coding system to coordinate care and exchange information. Currently, agencies use different coding systems.

"E-gov is focused on simplifying bureaucracy, and the CHI work in health data standards is an excellent example of how simplification can improve quality and reduce health care costs in America," Mark Forman, associate director for information technology and electronic government at the Office of Management and Budget, said in a statement.

Under this announcement, all agencies will adopt the following standards:

*Health Level 7 messaging standards to ensure each agency can share information such as order entries, scheduled appointments and tests, and coordination of admittance, discharge and transfer of patients.

*Certain National Council of Prescription Drug Programs standards for ordering drugs. The standards were adopted under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, and the new announcement will ensure that parts of the three agencies not covered by the act use the same standards.

*Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers 1073 series of standards to allow providers to plug medical devices into information systems.

*Digital Imaging Communications in Medicine standards to enable images and diagnostic information to be retrieved from various devices.

*Laboratory Logical Observation Identifier Names and Codes to standardize the exchange of clinical results.

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