HHS seeks to build a foundation for health IT network

A 4-year-old Denver child who suffers from seizures will receive better care because the doctors and hospitals treating him now have access to his electronic health records. A local health information network provides comprehensive in- formation at the point of care, saving time and avoiding possible medical mistakes.

The federal government wants to connect Denver’s recently implemented health network with more than 80 other local and regional health information exchanges to create a national network.

National standards

National standards are the foundation for the regional networks’ exchange of information, said David Brailer, the National Health IT Coordinator.

Brailer and Health and Human Services secretary Mike Leavitt this week are expected to outline the next steps in the national health IT agenda, specifically concerning the need for harmonizing standards and certifying health IT products in what could be described as Health IT Week.

Brailer will announce how his office will use the $32.8 million it received in reprogrammed fiscal 2005 funding, reflecting the “contours” of industry consensus, he said. President Bush has requested $125 million for Brailer’s office in 2006.

Standards and interoperability were the overarching themes that emerged from comments in response to a request for information Brailer’s office released late last year. The regional health information networks would be based on national standards, yet reflect local differences, Brailer said.
Government will jump-start collaboration among organizations to craft a set of national health IT standards, create operational models for a health information network architecture and develop a certification process to ensure that electronic health record systems are interoperable.

HHS issued presolicitation announcements about those future proposals last month.

The agency also will issue another solicitation asking vendors to assess state privacy and security laws that are barriers to automated health information exchange. Some state laws are more stringent than required under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

The contracts, when awarded, will pressure groups to collaborate.

“I don’t want to say that the product we’re purchasing is collaboration. But that’s the vehicle,” Brailer said.

Brailer said his office will not dictate who should decide on standards, but user communities, including doctors, hospitals, nurses and consumers, should have the final say.

Without standards, “we could end up in regional silos,” Brailer said late last month at a conference in Washington.

Agreement among health care providers, software companies, standards organizations and health plans is key to exchanging information across regional health networks.

“We have numerous moving parts that have to move together,” Brailer told another industry conference in Baltimore.

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