HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt looked at a list of recently "harmonized" healthcare information technology communication standards and pronounced it very good.
The not unexpected anointment came at a meeting of Leavitt's American Health Information Community advisory panel, where Leavitt officially accepted 30 standards that had been submitted to the AHIC on Oct. 31, 2006, by the Healthcare Information Technology Standards Panel, or HITSP.
HITSP was created in October 2005 after HHS awarded the American National Standards Institute a $3.3 million contract to develop a process to identify, combine or "harmonize" when necessary, and recommend healthcare IT standards for specific tasks. The panel's subsequent work is part of a federal effort to increase the level of interoperability between disparate healthcare IT systems.
The first batch of HITSP standards focused on AHIC-generated "use cases" dealing with the movement of laboratory test results, biosurveillance data and patient registration information and medication histories.
HITSP Chairman John Halamka said more than 250 participants collaborated to winnow an initial list of 700 candidate standards to the 30 that were picked for inclusion in HITSP's initial group of interoperability specifications.
"We look forward to the next round of standards harmonization for personal health records, medication management and quality measurement," Halamka said. "It is truly an honor to work with the patients, payers, providers, employers, vendors and (standards-development organizations) in HITSP."
In a news statement, Stephen Lieber, president and chief executive officer of the Chicago-based Health Information and Management Systems Society, lauded the participants in the HITSP process for their thousands of hours of labor on the harmonization effort, but warned much work remains.
"These interoperability standards are critical to realizing the benefits of information technology in transforming healthcare," Lieber said. "However, we must understand this is a long-term process that requires active industry engagement and buy-in. Now is the time to become engaged and follow the process through to fruition."
Leavitt's action could have more immediate impact on the federal government than the private sector.
Last August, President Bush signed an executive order that required any new or upgraded federal health information system to comply with interoperability standards that have been "recognized" by the HHS secretary. Federal agencies were to comply with the order by Jan. 1, 2007.
Looking ahead, Halamka said HITSP has received from the AHIC summaries of what will be the new use cases, which will direct the activities of a series of AHIC work groups, and will also form the targets for the next round of harmonization actitities, but what he described as "the full set of use cases" are not expected until March.
"Once we receive them, we would (re)start the entire HITSP process, which
includes standards selection," he said. "I expect we'll complete the next round
by October 2007."