HHS' Leavitt continues to push health IT standards

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The federal government can play a major role in developing nationwide health information technology standards by using the power of its purse, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said in a speech today at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Leavitt has been campaigning for the development of a nationwide health IT system.

Because the federal government picks up 46 percent of the nation's health care bill through Medicare and other programs, “if we adopt standards, it will move the market,’’ Leavitt said.

The federal government can influence the health care market by becoming an early adopter of standards-based health IT systems, which will create a sense of certainty in the marketplace, he said.

HHS views standards as the essential building block of a nationwide health IT system, which will give providers and consumers quick and easy access to electronic health records, with the federal government playing a key role in standards development.

"Unifying health IT with standards [is] a major [effort] on the part the national government," Leavitt told the Stanford audience, but it needs to be done through what he called “organic collaboration’’ between the government and the health care sector. The federal government should not mandate standards, he said.

Earlier this month, HHS' Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT issued a notice that it plans to award a management consulting contract no later than the end of September to evaluate the feasibility of a process to harmonize standards to support widespread interoperability among health care software applications, particularly e-health record systems.

A number of groups are working on the development of standards for e-health record systems, which will be used in small physician practices. Those groups fall under the Certification Commission for Health Care IT, an umbrella health IT standards organization backed by the American Health Information Management Association, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, and the National Alliance for Health IT.

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