Committee OKs bill to give NIST role in federal health IT

The House Science and Technology Committee has approved a bill to give the National Institute of Standards and Technology a sizable role in federal efforts to advance health information technology.

Approval came on a voice vote after the bill’s sponsor, Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), amended the bill to clarify that the new NIST programs in the bill would complement existing federal health IT programs under the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT.

Witnesses at a September hearing urged Gordon not to interfere with the existing programs. “We are concerned that there are already too many overlapping, duplicative efforts launched by the government to try to speed health care IT adoption,” said one witness, Noel Williams, representing the American Hospital Association.

The Gordon bill, the Healthcare IT Enterprise Integration Act, would establish a health care information enterprise integration program at NIST. Its activities would include standards, interoperability analysis, software conformance and certification, security and privacy technical issues, information management and medical device communication.

The bill encourages NIST to work with outside organizations and federal agencies to establish technical road maps for the development of application protocols, interoperability, data integrity, and security and privacy standards, plus conformance testing protocols.

The bill also directs NIST to work with federal agencies on interoperability, security, and privacy standards and guidelines for use by federal agencies. A new interagency council would coordinate development of a federal health IT infrastructure.

An amendment by Rep. Baron Hill (D-Ind.) also would require NIST to establish a task force of federal agency and industry group representatives to create a strategy for developing common terminologies and classifications for use in health IT systems.

The bill now goes to the full House for a vote. Another House health IT bill, known as the Promotion of Health IT Act, introduced by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), is pending in the Energy and Commerce Committee.

About the Author

Nancy Ferris is senior editor of Government Health IT.

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