CMS' acting Administrator Kerry Weems on Tuesday answered critics who say that the federal government's health information technology efforts are too slow-footed, saying that the current decisionmaking pace will pay off in the long run.
"You're never going to be happy with pace in a political environment," Weems told reporters at a briefing that followed his keynote speech at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce-sponsored health IT conference. "You always want everything done immediately."
Weems, who is also vice chairman of the American Health Information Community, lauded the work that the committee has done so far, adding that it has "probably accomplished more than we anticipated."
But whether that's enough to sate the private sector, including big-ticket companies such as Google and Microsoft Corp.each of which has increased its health IT effortsis still uncertain. What's clear is that technology companies are accustomed to moving at a faster clip than the federal government, which has created a hurry-up-and-wait climate throughout the industry.
Separate of the AHIC initiatives, Google last month said that it had entered into a pilot program with the Cleveland Clinic and six other large medical centers and pharmacies that would allow thousands of patients to use its Web-based personal health records.
And last October, Microsoft unveiled it's first run at a PHR system with the debut of its user-centric HealthVault. The system ties back to a number of participating vendors patient records that can automatically be updated with the latest laboratory or test results.
While PHRs are not the same as a fully interoperable health IT system, or what Weems refers to as the "holy grail," it nevertheless is a signal that that private sector is itching to enter the health IT marketwith more than a few of them getting frustrated at what they see as the government's slow pace.
"Certainly, that sense exists," Weems said. "In a number of meetings I have had with the industry, they want to say, 'Well, you decide.' And that really goes to the nature of government. We would prefer that the collective decide because, I think, they can make a better decision."
And that "collective" is about to get a face-lift, too. A partnership between LMI Government Consulting, McLean, Va., and the Brookings Institution, Washington, is set to take the reins off what's being called AHIC 2.0, a phase-two, private-sector push to help further foster the use of health IT.
Scott Wallace, president and chief executive officer of the National Alliance for Health Information Technology, Chicago, said that the new incarnation of the AHIC wants to forge its own path. "They've made it clear that they want to define their own agendaalmost to the point of starting with a blank sheet of paper," Wallace said in an e-mail.
Wallace said that there is a general sense that a national health IT policy framework is lacking, "so what they are doing in analyzing the issues makes a huge amount of sense."
Wallace said that AHIC 2.0's leaders are crafting an agenda that will take into account a number of old and new issues. "Appropriately, they are taking some time to consider what's been done, what we want a national information network to look like and what the federal government can and should do to make it happen," he said. "That's not trivial, and it isn't quick. Contemplation is a rare commodity in policy planningand I'm glad to see it."
Plus, moving the AHIC out of a strictly government domain could ensure that the health IT agenda doesn't slip off the radar under a new White House administration. "We're quite confident that this will continue, and perhaps at an even faster pace," Weems said.
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