HHS panel considers authentication standards for NHIN

It could be a central process or go commercial, workgroup says

The Health and Human Services Department should decide whether to set up its own system to authenticate identities for national health data exchange, or to leverage commercial systems for that purpose, according to members of a federal advisory workgroup that met today.

The Nationwide Health Information Network (NHIN) workgroup is preparing to make recommendations to HHS’ Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology this month. The NHIN is the federal government’s existing set of protocols and systems for conducting secure health data exchange.

The workgroup is considering “what can be done today to accelerate information exchange under a variety of scenarios,” said David Lansky, its chairman, who also is president of the Pacific Business Group on Health.

Authentication and identity-proofing schemes are needed for providers, including individuals and systems, such as doctors, practices and hospitals, as well as for consumers, panelists said.

One option discussed is for HHS to establish its own provider authentication process, possibly piggybacking on the Veterans Affairs Department’s efforts in that area because the VA has a nationwide network of physicians. Another possibility is to use identity proofing and authentication programs available commercially, workgroup members said.

The group also recently considered the need for the NHIN to establish a national provider directory that is complete and up-to-date for the purposes of information exchange.

HHS created the NHIN as a demonstration project for exchanging health data between federal agencies and other organizations. HHS has not named the NHIN as the official entity that will handle data exchange for the purpose of meeting the meaningful use and certification requirements of the economic stimulus law.

On Dec. 30, HHS released proposed regulations for meaningful use and certification of electronic health records systems, which include the requirement that those systems be capable of engaging in health data exchange. The federal government is distributing at least $17 billion in payments to doctors and hospitals that buy and "meaningfully use" the systems.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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