HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt announced plans for development of a national health information network and creation of a federal advisory commission on standards for healthcare information technology. Leavitt says HHS will issue requests for proposals on: architecture and design of a Web-based national health information network; assessment of potential privacy and security problems in a national network; a prototype process for harmonizing IT standards; and criteria to evaluate features and functionality of electronic health records, including interconnectivity. Leavitt says he will name up to 17 members to the panel, known as the American Health Information Community, and serve as its chairman.
Editor's Note: Complete coverage of HHS' plans can be found in the June 13, 2005 issue of Modern Healthcare. An editorial commenting on the government's plans can be found in this issue of Health IT Strategist on p. 8.
GAO criticizes efforts so far
About a week before HHS' announcement on developing a national health information network, the Government Accountability Office called on the agency to create detailed plans and milestones for each of the three phases of its national healthcare information technology strat-egy. The GAO also advised that HHS ensure that the plans are carried out and the milestones met. The 92-page report says HHS had made progress in coordinating federal health IT efforts and reaching out to private industry but would do well to draw on lessons learned in other efforts. For example, the experience of the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments in developing national IT networks shows the value of a comprehensive communications plan that will allow technology users and would-be adopters to share progress, problems and other information.
Certification group wins donations
A group developing a certification process for healthcare IT products?the Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology, or CCHIT?says seven healthcare organizations have committed to giving it more than $100,000 in unrestricted funding. The organizations are HCA, Sutter Health, McKesson Corp., United Health Foundation, WellPoint, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American College of Physicians. The commission says it plans to hold a series of one-hour conference calls this month to publicize its efforts and obtain suggestions from various stakeholders in certification development. The commission was formed by the American Health Information Management Association, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society and the National Alliance for Health Information Technology.
Taking stock of IT in Michigan
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Michigan says it will lead and finance a statewide inventory of healthcare provider investments in medical information technology, both current and planned, with the cooperation of three provider associations. The Blues plan is working with the Michigan State Medical Society, the Michigan Osteopathic Association and the Michigan Health and Hospital Association, which constitute the Partnership for Michigan's Health. --Crain's Detroit Business
$1.9 million goes to health networks
The Markle and Robert Wood Johnson foundations say they will provide $1.9 million to connect regional health information networks in California, Indiana and Massachusetts as the next step toward creating a national network. The project aims to establish principles and standards for linking regional data-sharing groups. The first data exchanges should take place in August, officials say.
The project is being led by Connecting for Health, a public-private coalition managed by Markle and supported by Robert Wood Johnson. The regional networks are Mendocino SHARE in Northern California; the Indiana Network for Patient Care, Indianapolis; and MA-SHARE, Boston.
Free EHR advice from Medicare
Medicare quality-improvement organizations will provide free guidance on adopting electronic health records and using them to improve clinical performance to small- and medium-size physician practices under a three-year contract with the CMS. David Schulke, executive vice president of the American Health Quality Association, which represents QIOs, says the group intends to spur wider use of EHRs by showing physicians how to use the technology to learn best practices and assess work flow and patient care.
About 2% of budgets go to IT
Hospitals spend a median of 2% to 2.49% of their operating budgets on information technology, regardless of their status as teaching or nonteaching, urban or rural, independently operated or part of a system, according to HIMSS Analytics, a subsidiary of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society. Average IT spending tends to be greater at teaching and larger hospitals but not so much that they exceed the median range, the company says. While nearly all hospitals use IT to handle registration, billing and claims submission, 72% use electronic scheduling systems and 33% check insurance eligibility electronically.