HHS would have one year to develop a strategy and agenda for a planned national healthcare information technology network under legislation introduced Friday.
The proposed National Health Information Infrastructure Act of 2003, sponsored by Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.), authorizes the creation of an NHII officer position within HHS.
This officer, who would report directly to the HHS secretary, would coordinate public- and private-sector efforts to develop the healthcare IT infrastructure and push for adoption of voluntary communication and data transmission standards.
"Development of such a system is being impeded by the lack of comprehensive architectural standards to assure interoperability," Johnson says in a press release. Johnson staffers did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.
The national health information officer would have one year following enactment of the proposed legislation to devise a timeline for standards adoption and network development and report to Congress on progress toward the NHII.
"As long as we understand that a roadmap is going to go through many revisions, it's reasonable to expect to accomplish this in a year," says healthcare quality advocate Molly Joel Coye, M.D., CEO of the San Francisco-based Health Technology Center and a member of the Institute of Medicine.
"It is very important to have Congress and congressional staff show leadership in this area," says Coye, who notes that the NHII project will need a lot of federal funding.
The bill now before the House would not appropriate any money. Dan Rode, Washington representative for the American Health Information Management Association, says Congress typically would fund such a project through the annual HHS appropriations process.
This bill is intended "to strategize and essentially to coordinate," according to Rode.
The Johnson statement says that the legislation aims to create a network for improving healthcare outcomes, minimizing preventable medical errors, slashing the administrative workload in healthcare and eliminating duplication of procedures.
HHS currently has a senior advisor for the NHII project, William Yasnoff, M.D., who works in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, currently headed by William Raub.
Rode says that the Johnson legislation simply formalizes the position, though it does not create a separate NHII office within HHS. "It takes the status quo and makes it a little stronger," Rode says.