HHS ‘community’ gets to work

National Coordinator for Health IT

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The high-level American Health Information Community has chosen personal health records, telemonitoring for patients with chronic diseases and biosurveillance to watch for disease outbreaks and bioterrorism as the three topics it will tackle first.

Presented at its first meeting last week with a list of possible topics, members of the 17-member commission said separating them from other health information technology issues was difficult.

AHIC, headed by Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, is a forum for senior executives from the public and private sectors to wrestle with the barriers to adoption of health IT throughout the American health care system.

Leavitt urged the members to select topics that might have visible results soon. Although the commission is likely to consider a broad spectrum of health IT issues in the next two to five years, he said, it must distinguish itself from the many other commissions and committees that have been convened to advance health IT.

“The work of the community needs to be about actual progress,” he said, asking members to consider “how the influence of this group actually converts to action.” He said the nation cannot wait for the perfect health IT system to emerge but must take manageable steps toward the ideal system.

“We’ve been decades now waiting for something to happen,” Leavitt added.

Although AHIC members were supposed to reach a consensus on the top-priority health IT issues for their initial consideration, Leavitt pre-empted them, asking them to put biosurveillance on the high-priority list.

Responding to the rising tide of concern about avian flu’s potential to transform itself into a deadly pandemic, he said biosurveillance systems today take two to three weeks to identify an outbreak. “That’s unacceptable,” he said. “It needs to be two or three hours.”

The community members also asked for more information about how IT is used in collecting data on health care quality and about the implementation of e-prescribing.

AHIC will meet every four to six weeks. Work groups assigned to tackle specific issues will do much of the nitty-gritty work. In addition, the three nonprofit organizations chosen as HHS health IT contractors last week will work with the community.

A Webcast of the AHIC meeting will be available after Oct. 11 on the Web site of the national coordinator for health IT.


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