HHS releases health IT network RFPs

The Health and Human Services Department released requests for proposals late yesterday and today that will pave the way for developing a national health information network infrastructure that will support the exchange of electronic health records.

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, which resides in HHS, posted the multiple RFPs on FedBizOpps. Proposals are due July 7 for three of the RFPs.

Since no national health network design exists, industry and regional providers are innovating, said David Brailer, the national coordinator for health IT. That could lead to regional networks that cannot exchange data. “That’s why we’ve got to hurry,” Brailer said. “The plan that we’ve laid out and the reason that we’ve followed this RFP approach is because we think we can get there faster this way,”

Under one RFP, Brailer’s office seeks to develop and prototype a process to harmonize standards to support widespread interoperability among health care software applications, particularly electronic health record (EHR) systems.

The contractor will provide use-cases that illustrate applicability and the business need for the recommended standards, and will also identify duplicates and gaps in standards. The contractor will work with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the process of harmonizing standards.

NIST will consider the standards that result from the harmonization process to be Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS), so that “federal and private-sector standards are aligned and so that widespread interoperability among health care software applications, particularly, EHRs, will exist,” HHS said.

The contractor is expected to include representatives from standards-setting organizations, physicians and hospitals, software vendors, employers or their health plans, consumers, public health and federal agencies. HHS anticipates awarding a contract for three years with one one-year option by Sept. 30.

Another request requires development of an EHR compliance certification and inspection process to minimize the risk for providers that invest in electronic health records. More than 200 EHR products are on the market, but no criteria exists to evaluate the functionality and interoperability of a product, all of which limits physicians’ and hospitals’ ability to make informed buying decisions and the capacity for automated health information exchange, HHS said in the posting.

NIST will develop a process to recognize the compliance certification process for FIPS for federal agencies. The contract, to be awarded by Sept. 30, will have a duration of three years with one one-year option.

A third RFP seeks proposals for prototypes and operational models for a
Nationwide Health Information Network Architecture to demonstrate how health information will be shared electronically. HHS hopes to spur innovation for nationwide sharing of health information.

The contractor must provide at least two health applications, such as electronic health records, that can exchange data, and one application for population health, such as biosurveillance, that is capable of data exchange. The contractor will also demonstrate the interoperable exchange of health information across three distinct health care markets. HHS anticipates awarding up to six contracts for one year with one one-year option in fiscal 2006.

The final request addresses the fact that some states have more stringent privacy and security requirements for health information, such as for what is required under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. HHS’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality will seek an assessment of state laws and organizational business policies for privacy and security practices that pose challenges to automated health information exchange and determine how to coordinate them. HHS expects to award up to 40 contracts for one year with the potential for one one-year option by Sept. 30. Proposals are due July 15.

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