HHS' information technology coordinator, David Brailer, outlined the federal government's plan to accelerate adoption of electronic health records and other healthcare IT in a much-anticipated address before a standing-room-only audience at a Washington IT conference. Major public and private initiatives announced at the conference include:
- The formation of a Health Information Technology Leadership Panel, made up of industry executives appointed by HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, that will assess the costs and benefits of health IT to the industry and society and report by October on immediate steps for government and private sector to take.
- A plan to build a consortium of technology companies that would agree on common requirements for planning, developing and operating health information networks. The consortium would start with identified standards for easy exchange of data among computers, or interoperability, and begin to "operationalize" the consensus, so that interoperability becomes a reality instead of merely a nice concept, Brailer said.
- A plan for private-sector certification of health IT products, identifying software with the basic functions determined necessary to an electronic medical record and with technology that won't make the product quickly obsolete. Three trade associations -- the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, the American Health Information Management Association and the National Alliance for Health Information Technology -- announced formation of an initiative to certify ambulatory electronic health-record products.
- A commitment from the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to adapt a long track record of IT innovation to the private sector. For example, the Defense Department agreed to draw on its battlefield experience to advance the use of telehealth technology. And the VA said it would develop and offer for free by early 2005 a physician-office version of its electronic medical record, called Vista, to practicing physicians and software developers.
Also at the meeting, CMS Administrator Mark McClellan announced a Medicare pilot project beginning this year in Indiana that will make Medicare claims information available to individual beneficiaries on the Web. McClellan said the pilot would explore how to replace the current explanation-of-benefits form with personalized information accessible by secure means. -- by John Morrissey