HHS to industry: Help assess health IT networks

The Health and Human Services Department wants industry help to identify the current scope of health information exchanges and how best to foster a nationwide exchange for quality and outcome reporting.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) on Aug. 20 published a request for information for the National Gap Analysis and Readiness Assessment for the Health Information Technology Infrastructure. The project is an outgrowth of the economic stimulus law, which provided HHS with $45 billion to be distributed to doctors and hospitals that buy and "meaningfully use" electronic medical records.

According to the RFI, vendors are invited to submit ideas by Oct. 1 on how to conduct a national scan of existing health IT infrastructures and how to “generate an initial national strategic framework for a national health information infrastructure,” according to the synopsis on the Federal Business Opportunities Web site. There is no guarantee of a procurement, the notice states.

The project’s goal is to support the adoption of electronic health records in the near term and lay the groundwork for broad exchange of patient data.

The entities to be included in the gap analysis and scan are federal agencies, such as CMS, the Health Resources and Services Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state Medicaid agencies, state public health departments, health information exchanges and networks and health providers.

The analysis is critical to the Obama administration’s health reform agenda and also may help guide the distribution of grants under the economic stimulus law, the notice states. On Aug. 20, Vice President Joe Biden and HHS announced $1.2 billion in grants is available to states to help foster health exchanges and also to nonprofit institutions to set up education centers to help providers implement electronic records.

In the RFI, vendors are asked to describe options for HHS, including levels of effort, deliverables and timeless, to generate a framework for nationwide health data exchange. The vendors are encouraged to leverage existing products if possible, including HHS’ existing Federal Health Architecture program. The federal architecture offers offers software and assistance to providers to link to a federal pilot networking project, the Nationwide Health Information Network (NHIN).

The NHIN has been in development for several years and has operated pilot projects with more than a dozen federal and state agencies. However, it is still a “work in progress,” according to National Coordinator for Health IT Dr. David Blumenthal.

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