Four teams to build health nets

Limited budget forces HHS to scale back network awards

2005 National Consumer Health Privacy Survey

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The Department of Health and Human Services will use four National Health Information Network (NHIN) architecture contracts it awarded last week to promote the development of inexpensive and easy-to-use electronic health records (EHR) systems and networks.

Dr. David Brailer, national coordinator for health information technology at HHS, said he wants the four winning teams to develop systems that would make it easy and affordable for doctors to connect to a network and get information about patients, laboratory data, drug information and digital images, such as X-rays. "If it's not simple, doctors won't use it," Brailer said.

Systems developed by all four teams must be interoperable, Brailer said, so that it is as easy to transfer health care information from one system to another as it is for a cellular phone subscriber to call someone on another carrier's network.

The Computer Sciences Corp. team designed its winning bid to ensure interoperability with existing EHR systems, said Dan Garrett, managing partner of the CSC Global Health Solutions business unit.

The CSC team, which includes the EHR Vendors Association, will design an architecture to support patient information in EHR systems built by companies such as Siemens Medical Solutions and IDX Systems. Doctors and hospitals expect the NHIN to support their existing systems, Garrett said.

HHS asked bidders to provide open-source alternatives for the NHIN. Tome Romeo, IBM partner for federal health care, said the company met that request in its winning bid. Part of IBM's NHIN architecture will be based on royalty-free health care information systems patents that IBM released last month, Romeo said. Those included patents for a system that gives priority access to requests for patient information coming from emergency rooms vs. routine office requests.

The NHIN contracts come at the final stage of a two-year effort to fulfill President Bush's request for a national EHR system within a decade. Last month, HHS awarded contracts designed to reduce privacy, security and interoperability barriers that have hindered the widespread use of health IT.

The current budget for Brailer's office made it possible to award only four contracts instead of six as originally envisioned, he said. If a conference committee provides $75 million for the office instead of the $45 million proposed by the Senate, he said, HHS could award two additional contracts within a month after an appropriations bill's approval.

Even with only four contracts, HHS now has the building blocks to move health IT from hope to reality, Brailer said.

HHS picks four

Here is a list of the lead contractors and their health partners picked to build prototypes for the National Health Information Network.

  • Accenture's team includes the Eastern Kentucky Regional Health Community, Tennessee's CareSpark and the West Virginia eHealth Initiative.
  • Computer Sciences Corp.'s team includes the Indiana Health Information Exchange and Massachusetts Simplifying Healthcare Among Regional Entities.
  • IBM's team includes New York's Taconic Health Information Network and Community and two North Carolina Healthcare Information and Communications Alliance locations.
  • Northrop Grumman's team includes the Santa Cruz, Calif., Regional Health Information Organization, Cincinnati's HealthBridge and the University Hospitals Health System in Cleveland.

-- Bob Brewin


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