HHS works on framework for health IT standards

Framework will include standard vocabularies for electronic medical records

The next stage of federal efforts to spur adoption of electronic health records will involve a framework for standards and interoperability, according to a senior Health and Human Services Department official.

The goal is to build on the current foundation and develop “progressively more rigorous electronic health information exchange requirements,” David Blumenthal, HHS’ national coordinator for health IT, told the House Science and Technology Committee’s Technology and Innovation Subcommittee Sept. 30.

Blumenthal updated lawmakers on what's happening with the $20 billion in economic stimulus funding designated for promoting physician and hospital investments in health IT. HHS issued three sets of regulations in recent months to define how physicians and hospitals can become eligible for reimbursements by installing and meaningfully using the record systems.


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As part of those efforts, HHS set initial standards for exchanging medical data. The next stage will have more standards along with the comprehensive framework, Blumenthal said.

HHS has determined that a standards and interoperability framework is needed, and the agency is in the process of establishing that framework, he added.

The new framework is intended to help facilitate developing, adopting, and using standards and implementation specifications.

The goal is to have a set of standards “that can be reused across different use cases, and allow for greater coordination among public and industry stakeholders,” Blumenthal said. “Interoperability will be critical to our success in Stages 2 and 3 of meaningful use.”

HHS is working on reaching agreement on vocabularies and code sets for particular information exchange purposes, as well as comprehensive privacy and security requirements and capabilities, Blumenthal added.

Subcommittee Chairman Rep. David Wu (D-Ore.) said, “A key barrier to broader integration of health IT systems has been the lack of technical standards to support interoperability and protect data and privacy. Many physicians, particularly those in small practices where most Americans get their health care, are hesitant to take on the considerable expense of a health IT system that, without common standards, may not work with the systems of a neighboring health care provider or may become prematurely obsolete.”

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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