Health IT advisers: Get initiatives moving

RFP seeks state input about health records exchange

Members of a high-level commission that advises the Department of Health and Human Services on the development of health information technology urged the department Jan. 17 to speed its timetables for health IT projects.

HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said the barriers to health IT deployment are sociological, not technological. Leavitt said it takes longer to tackle cultural, political and other people-related issues than to install new technology. In his experience, he said, “technology is never the limiting factor.”

Craig Barrett, chairman of Intel, was among the members of the American Health Information Community who pressed for faster work and more details on the initiatives that the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT is coordinating.

Barrett asked the national coordinator, Dr. David Brailer, how many citizens will be using the personal health records promoted by a commission workgroup. Brailer replied that hundreds of thousands of people should have the records in about a year.

Barrett disagreed. “I would have to engage a number substantially larger than that,” he said.

Leavitt reminded the commission that it is an advisory panel, implying that it should not be laying out firm deadlines. He said HHS employees already work under such deadlines.

Despite their concerns about the pace of the effort, American Health Information Community members were generally enthusiastic about the reports they received on the four health IT projects for which HHS has awarded contracts.

One of the contracts, for work on privacy laws and regulations that may hinder exchanges of health data, is likely to be extended. Dr. Scott Young of HHS’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which awarded the privacy contract to a team led by RTI International, said the agency will extend the contract in hopes of establishing a permanent repository of information about privacy issues and best privacy practices for health IT.

Commission members also questioned how the four contracts for development of health information exchange networks will result in an interoperable national network. Brailer said that although many networks may exist, they will in effect be a national network if they adhere to data exchange standards.

Barrett agreed, citing the example of automated teller machines that bank customers use worldwide. Although no single national banking network architecture exists, he said, a series of networks with common standards facilitates ATM transactions.

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