HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt has made much ado in recent months about
transparency over pricing and quality in healthcare, but, it would
appear that Leavitt may be more committed to controlling the message than
transparency when it comes to government activities to promote setting
standards for healthcare information technology.
According to an undated memo sent by Frances Schrotter, senior vice
president and chief operating officer of the American National
Standards Institute, members of a key, HHS-funded panel working on
harmonization of healthcare IT standards should not discuss their work with the public until
after Leavitt makes a public announcement about it.
The Health Information Technology Standards Panel, or HITSP, is meeting today
via teleconference to give final approval to a first batch of recommended standards and guidelines
to boost usage of electronic health records and personal health-record
systems, and to be used in monitoring potential events of bioterrorism.
HITSP was created last year by the ANSI, an accreditation organization
for standards development organizations, to work up a series of
harmonized standards and policies for healthcare IT under a $3.3
million HHS contract issued through its Office of the National
Coordinator for Health Information Technology.
According to the Schrotter memo: During recent communications between
ANSI and the ONCHIT office, it was suggested that Secretary Leavitt may
wish to make the first public announcement regarding receipt by the
AHIC of the HITSP's recommended interoperability specifications. ANSI
will receive confirmation of the HHS intended media plan early next
week. Until that notice is received, members of the HITSP are requested
to refrain from making any public statements regarding the deliverable.
We appreciate your cooperation and understanding of the importance of
carefully coordinating this communications effort.
Multiple written formal comments by participants and observers of the
process have criticized HITSP for its haste in not providing ample time
to review and comment on its proposed harmonized standards in an effort
to meet an Oct. 31 deadline for delivery of its first batch of
harmonized standards set by the American Health Information Community,
an IT advisory panel created by Leavitt last year. One critic also
complained of a lack of transparency and openness because minutes of
HITSP meetings and at least one of its technical committees were not
publicly available on the HITSP Web site until at least early September.
Several issues before HITSP have been contentious, but perhaps the
most debated was a technical committee recommendation over endorsing a
standard for moving patient registration and medication history
information between personal health records and electronic medical-records systems. The HITSP temporarily settled the issue last month by
recommending it wait six months before endorsing a standard in hopes
that work between standards development organizations Health Level 7
and ASTM International on the Continuity of Care Document, a compromise
between their competing standards, can be completed and balloted.
HITSP Chairman John Halamka, in response to an e-mail request for
clarification, assured in an e-mail response this morning that HITSP
will continue to strive for transparency, and that the minutes for
the technical committee as well as those minutes of the full HITSP were
taken, but were temporarily unavailable because they were placed in the
wrong folder of the ANSIs online library developed for the panels
work. Halamka said the Schrotter memo was not a gag order and he will
attempt to clarify the issue during the meeting today.
An ONCHIT spokesperson was unavailable for comment.
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