HHS sees health tech urgency

National Health Information Network RFI

Health care information technology in the United States could gain a twin push today with release of a report by Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt describing investment in health IT as an "urgent priority" and the introduction of bipartisan legislation to fund regional health information networks.

Leavitt's report is based in part on comments filed by more than 500 organizations in response to a request for information on development of a National Health Information Network issued by Dr. David Brailer, the national coordinator for health IT, said a spokeswoman for HHS.

Top level personnel from a variety of federal agencies that have been working on health IT, including the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, have been evaluating those responses since mid-January, the spokeswoman added.

Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) and Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) are planning to introduce a health IT bill, the "21st Century Health Information Act of 2005," which calls for HHS grants for as many as 20 organizations for developing regional health information networks in geographically contiguous areas, backed by up to $250 million in funding over a five-year period.

The Murphy-Kennedy bill would also provide up to $5 million a year in funding for a National Technical Assistance Center to be operated by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality to help physicians to adopt health care IT systems.

The assistance center would provide physicians and their staff with a "change management tool kit" to help physicians prepare for use of electronic health records (EHR) and electronic prescribing and to receive guidance in selection of vendors of vendors of health IT products and services.

The bill also calls for certification of any health IT product used by the regional networks by the Certification Commission for Health care IT (CCHIT), an umbrella health IT standards organization backed by the American Health Information Management Association, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) and the National Alliance for Health IT.

Dr. Mark Leavitt, medical director of HIMSS and chairman of CCHIT, said his organization will close its comment period next week on proposed standards for an EHR including functionality, interoperability, security and reliability. The certification commission plans a beta test of EHR systems in September and has plans to start certifying systems by year end, Mark Leavitt said, no relation to the HHS secretary.

Physicians will adopt EHR systems on a wide basis and health care costs will fall once standards are developed, Mark Leavitt said. He described the certification commission as the health care IT version of the Wi-Fi Alliance, the industry organization which developed a set of standards for wireless Wi-FI access points and terminal devices.

Widespread adoption of the Wi-Fi Alliance's standards led to economies of scale, and the price of Wi-Fi access points dropped from about $1,000 each less than $100. Mark Leavitt said he believed CCHIT could have a similar effect on the EHR market.


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