NIST pledges staff time for health IT

The National Institute of Standards and Technology will assume a major role in the federal government’s health information technology initiative, the acting director of NIST told a Senate subcommittee yesterday.

NIST staff members already participate in many groups that are developing IT standards for health care. But NIST will expand its involvement in health IT as a partner of the Department of Health and Human Services in a nationwide initiative to automate health care records systems, Hratch Semerjian, the acting director told members of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee’s Technology, Innovation and Competitiveness Subcommittee.

NIST’s immediate plan is to assist HHS officials in evaluating responses to the department’s National Health Information Network (NHIN) proposal, Semerjian said. HHS has proposed awarding six contracts for prototype networks for exchanging health information.

NIST will help HHS officials evaluate responses to the NHIN proposal and provide technical expertise as needed in developing an architecture for the nationwide network, Semerjian said. The agency will also assist in harmonizing IT health care standards, developing performance and conformance metrics for NHIN, and providing information security guidance.

In those and other ways, Semerjian said, NIST will contribute its expertise to achieving the Bush administration’s goal of having a national health care system in which “clinicians have key information, related to past patient experience, laboratory results and prescriptions when and where it is needed — at the point of care.”

As part of the effort to harmonize health care information standards, Semerjian said, NIST officials will immediately begin developing special publications and federal information processing standards to formalize data standards agreed upon through HHS’ Federal Health Architecture and President Bush’s Consolidated Health Informatics Initiative.

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