Uncle Sam issues data-sharing standards for medical info

The government has issued governmentwide standards for coding and sharing medical records.

The standards, released last week and mandatory for all federal agencies, are the work of the Defense, Health and Human Services, and Veterans Affairs departments.

The three departments developed the data specifications under the rubric of the Consolidated Health Informatics initiative, one of the 25 Quicksilver e-government projects.

Currently, federal agencies that provide health care services use many different coding systems, making it difficult to maintain and share up-to-date information, the team’s officials said.

The coding standards are the first of a series of standards that will make up a National Health Information Infrastructure envisioned by the Office of Management and Budget’s e-government team.

“Benefits from using common health care standards include improved patient safety and a reduction in the cost of health care,” Dr. William Winkenwerder, assistant secretary of Defense for health affairs, said in a statement.

Ultimately, the goal is to promote use of the standards across the health care industry, not just within the government.

“It’s important for the federal government to lead by example by selecting and adopting these standards,” HHS secretary Tommy G. Thompson said. But, he added, to assure “appropriate privacy protections for personal health information,” it will fall to the private sector to make use of the standards widespread.

The Consolidated Health Informatics team cobbled the new standards together from formats now in use.

The initiative will require agencies to adopt five standards:

  • For messaging, the Health Level 7 standard to share patient information, such as entries of orders, scheduling of appointments and tests, and coordination of admittance, discharge and transfer records during in-patient care

  • For ordering drugs from pharmacies, standards created by the National Council on Prescription Drug Programs

  • For systems integration, IEEE 1073 series to plug medical devices into information and computer systems so health care providers can monitor information and support telemedicine services

  • For diagnostic data retrieval, the Digital Imaging Communications in Medicine standards, to capture information from manufacturers devices and medical staff systems

  • For laboratory records, the Logical Observation Identifier Name Codes to support the exchange of clinical lab results.

  • For now, there is no deadline for agencies to adopt the standards. Instead, agencies will be expected to convert to them as they upgrade medical and health care systems for inclusion in OMB's planned National Health Information Infrastructure.

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