Leavitt: Feds to be early adopters of new standards

Federal agencies will pioneer the adoption of standards developed by a new federal health information advisory committee, Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said earlier this month.

In a series of speeches in New York and Washington, D.C., Leavitt announced the creation of a 17-member advisory committee, called the American Health Information Community. Leavitt, chairman of the committee, said members will be announced soon to represent “every point of view” about health information technology.

Members will include representatives of the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments, ensuring that those agencies have a major voice in the selection of standards. The departments have the largest health information systems in the nation.

“We’re going to harmonize federal efforts,” he said. The National Institute of Standards and Technology will review the standards and issue additional ones for federal agencies. When government users adopt the standards, he said he hopes the large private insurance companies and others will do likewise.

The commission is expected to develop a process for selecting standards and an architecture for the national network, but Leavitt also wants it to get the ball rolling by setting up networks for specific functions that can be operational in a matter of months. “An adverse drug event reporting system would be a natural,” he said, and also suggested lab results and bioterrorism surveillance as candidate applications.

He said establishing ways to exchange health records and a national health information network may not be enough to overcome reluctance among physicians and others to stop relying on paper medical records.

“We’re going to take on the adoption gap. We have to,” he said. “I’ll have more to say about that in the weeks to come.”

Many people have suggested that doctors should be rewarded with higher Medicare reimbursements or other financial incentives for abandoning paper records.

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