Marchibroda: Hot days are upon us in health IT

June 15, 2005: School is out, a third of the baseball season is over and the last of the Star Wars movies is keeping the summer box office in hyper-drive. While the working world transitions to summer days and thoughts of vacation, government employees and health care IT (HIT) remain busy. I can’t recall a more demanding time for HIT governmentwide, which makes it a particularly auspicious moment to introduce Government Health IT.

We at the eHealth Initiative are excited to be part of this new publishing venture with Federal Computer Week. For those of you unfamiliar with us, the eHealth Initiative and its Foundation are independent, non-profit organizations that aim to improve the quality, safety and efficiency of health care through information and information technology. As we work to accelerate the adoption of HIT, policy activity around HIT itself is accelerating. The year is barely half over, and already much has happened.

We have just finished one of the most intensive two-week periods in HIT policy history. Last week, Mike Leavitt, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, announced the formation of a new public-private collaboration on standards, the American Health Information Community, and issued four inter-related requests for comment.

Leavitt’s announcement came directly on the heels of a release by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONCHIT), which shows the first details for a plan that will transform health care in America, he said in the release. Based on the 500 responses received from individual and private industry officials to its request for comments on interoperability and creation of a National Health Information Network (NHIN), the plan highlights areas of agreement among key players about HIT’s future.

In the meantime, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which received $139 million in funding last year, is diligently working on a National Resource Center for Health Information Technology (the eHealth Initiative is part of the contract team working on this effort as led by the National Opinion Research Center) and is funding the work of more than 100 grantees and five State and Regional Demonstration Projects. AHRQ officials just wrapped up their annual patient safety and health IT conference.

Capitol Hill lawmakers have been equally busy with HIT. Legislation introduced by Reps. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), and Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), would authorize grants to regional health information networks. The bill also would authorize incentive payments for HIT adoption to physicians treating Medicare and Medicaid patients.

And that’s just what’s happening on the federal level. While federal leadership and national private sector initiatives are important, they must be highly integrated with efforts at the state and local level.

State legislatures and governors’ offices are abuzz with initiatives announcing statewide HIT consortiums and summits to attract stakeholders.

Implementation of an HIT agenda requires buy-in and active collaboration among interconnected networks of providers, business interests, public officials and consumers within states and communities nationwide.

The eHealth Initiative earlier this year launched its State and Regional Health IT Policy Initiative, a series of activities bringing state policy officials together with health care, consumer and business leaders to help improve health care through IT. It has five states, with more to follow.

The rest of the year promises to be even more fast-paced than the first six months. We invite you to stay tuned to Government Health IT and watch for continuing analysis of HIT policy activities.

Janet M. Marchibroda is chief executive officer of the eHealth Initiative and executive director of the eHealth Initiative Foundation. She can be reached at janet.marchibroda@ehealthinitiative.org.

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