There is a caveat to last week's acceptance by HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt of 30 harmonized healthcare information technology standards.
When it comes to the government taking its own medicine, "acceptance" doesn't mean the much-lauded new standards will be "recognized" by Leavitt until early next year, according to a clarification by the American National Standards Institute in response to a report by Health IT Strategist last week.
That means, for now, the federal government won't have to use the 30 new standards in any of its own healthcare enterprises despite an executive order issued last summer by President Bush that seemingly set a Jan. 1, 2007 implementation deadline for use of new Leavitt-approved IT standards.
In a news release from the American National Standards Institute Thursday, Leavitt "announced his acceptance" on Jan. 23 of 30 consensus standards from the HHS-funded Healthcare Information Technology Standards Panel, adding it was "the next step towards development of a national health information network for the United States."
ANSI was awarded a $3.3 million HHS contract in 2005 to establish a process to select appropriate healthcare IT standards to promote the electronic transfer of healthcare information between disparate IT systems. The ANSI created the HITSP to do that work.
On Oct. 20, the HITSP met and approved its first batch of standards, formally handing 30 of them over to Leavitt at an Oct. 31 meeting of the American Health Information Community. AHIC is an IT advisory panel of government and private sector leaders created by Leavitt in 2005.
Leavitt, who serves as co-chairman of AHIC and attended the Oct. 31 meeting, lavished praise on the work of the HITSP saying "I don't have words to tell you how profoundly important I feel this is in the process."
The ANSI news statement Thursday said that, "A recently signed executive order has called for any new or upgraded federal health information system launched after January 1, 2008, to be compliant with standards recommended by HITSP."
That deadline appeared to conflict with the one set in an Aug. 22, 2006 executive order in which Bush decreed that "Agencies shall comply with the requirements of this order by January 1, 2007." Agencies defined under the order are any agency of the federal government that administers or sponsors a federal health care program. It specified that they are to use "health information technology systems and products that meet recognized interoperability standards." Recognized interoperability standards, under the order, "means interoperability standards recognized by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in accordance with guidance developed by the Secretary."
An ANSI official could not be reached by publication deadline Friday to clarify the deadline discrepancy. Health IT Strategist reported Friday morning that "Leavitt's action could have more immediate impact on the federal government than the private sector, noting that Bush's order required any new or upgraded federal health information system to comply with interoperability standards that have been 'recognized' by the HHS secretary" and that federal agencies "were to comply with the order by Jan. 1, 2007."
Friday afternoon, Stacy Leistner, director of communications and education for the ANSI, e-mailed a clarification, saying Bush's executive order requires that HITSP-recommended standards be implemented once they have been "recognized" by the HHS secretary.
"• Secretary Leavitt has now "accepted" version 1.2 of the HITSP Interoperability Specifications.
"• A six-month period of implementation and refinement of implementation guidance is now under way, to be followed by a six-month period of implementation.
"• Presuming that any revisions necessary as a result of the implementation and testing to be conducted during 2007 are minimal or of a technical nature, version 2.0 of these Interoperability Specifications is expected to be "recognized" in December 2007.
"• Thus, the effective implementation date for the standards, as called for in the Executive Order and confirmed by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health and Information Technology will be January 2008. "
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