HHS releases industry strategies to build health IT network

The Health and Human Services Department today released a summary of strategies that industry has agreed on to develop and implement a national health information exchange.

The report is the first in a series of announcements over the course of a Health IT Week to detail the government¡¦s next steps in accelerating the adoption of health IT to reduce medical mistakes and improve the quality of health care.

The health network will be able to deliver electronic health records when and where they are needed while protecting patient privacy and confidentiality, said HHS secretary Mike Leavitt in releasing the anticipated report. HHS received more than 500 responses to the request for information last year.

The national health network would be an Internet-based architecture linking together disparate health care information systems to allow patients, physicians, hospitals and other providers to share clinical information securely. The report is titled Summary of Nationwide Health Information Network Request for Information Responses.

"These ideas provide invaluable 'first specs' for a plan that will transform health care in America," Leavitt said in a statement.

Industry agreed that the national network will be made up of regional health information networks that reflect their local needs, but they must harmonize enough to exchange information. Additionally, they determined that financial incentives would accelerate the deployment and adoption of a national network.

Existing technologies, federal leadership, prototype regional exchange efforts and certification of electronic health records will be critical elements to drive a national health information network, the report said.

The biggest challenges result from the need for more refined standards, privacy concerns, financing and assured access to the network. Matching patient identity and aligning the variety of state laws regarding health information exchange are also difficult, the report noted.

The RFI asked respondents to explore the roles of the federal government and private industry in the deployment of a national health information network. ¡§The responses from the RFI yielded one of the richest and most descriptive collections of thoughts on interoperability and health information exchange that has likely ever been assembled in the U.S.,¡¨ said David Brailer, national coordinator for health IT, whose office resides in HHS.

Industry respondents agreed that a national network should:

  • be a decentralized architecture built using the Internet, linked by uniform communications and a software framework of open standards and policies

  • be governed by public and private stakeholders who oversee standards and policies

  • be patient-centric with sufficient safeguards to protect the privacy of personal health information
  • .

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