The federally supported Healthcare Information Technology Standards Panel has come up with a plan to improve its own internal communications as well as to educate members of the broader healthcare community about its work to promote healthcare IT interoperability.
The 43-page plan was presented and accepted Monday during a meeting of HITSP by its education, communication and outreach committee. HITSP was created in 2005 by the American National Standards Institute under a $3.3 million contract with HHS to develop a process to select and recommend appropriate healthcare IT standards.
"The measure of our success is not just harmonizing the standards; it's actual implementation," said HITSP Chairman John Halamka in a telephone interview after the meeting. "You want all systems to be plug-and-play. You want e-prescribing to be universal."
To do that, Halamka said, will require educating everyone in the healthcare community about HITSP and the availability of the HITSP-vetted standards. And in doing that, "You can't overcommunicate," he said.
Work on the education, communication and outreach plan began in February, said its chairman, Walter Suarez, president and chief executive officer of the Institute for HIPAA/HIT Education and Research, Alexandria, Va. According to the plan, the committee "anticipated building a multidimensional package of tools and recognizes that significant maintenance will be required to keep these resources up-to-date."
The tools will include one- and two-page fact sheets on the HITSP process and interoperability specifications, slightly longer issue briefs and lists of frequently asked questions that will be kept current and amended in response to reader input, all of which will be published online. The plan also calls for issuing news releases as needed, writing articles and, possibly, columns for industry publications. The group also contemplates creating a speakers bureau and library of PowerPoint presentations on specific topics such as the use of HITSP harmonized standards in medication management.
In addition, the plan calls for the development of various case studies of interoperability success stories presented either in print, audio or video format and maintaining "a significant presence" at industry events such as trade shows and annual meetings of member organizations.
One key order of business, the plan's authors recognized, will be overcoming the incomprehensibility of the patois of standards development organizations for many people in segments of the plan's target audience who are not IT geeks, particularly patients, government officials and healthcare organization leaders outside of IT.
"The single biggest challenge is the need to translate what we do from what we call 'HITSP speak' to a description and a presentation that is simplified and is provided at a level of language that can be understood by nontechnical people," Suarez said. "If I'm a CEO, HITSP speak is not going to cut it for me. It really requires a translation from the technical world to the nontechnical audience, because the nontechnical people are the ones that make the decisions of either creating the products that are HITSP-compatible or compliant and buying those products.
"We have produced so many documents, over 5,000 pages, but a lot of that is only consumable and understandable to a fraction of the people," Suarez said. "That's our challenge, to take those documents and organize them and translate them into very simple summaries and frequently asked questions so people can quickly go and find answers to the questions they might have.
"The good thing is we have people on the committee that live in both worlds and wonderful staff through the contract HITSP has with ONC. They provide the technical capabilities, provide the nontechnical capabilities and provide us the innovative art, the design piece for marketing purposes," Suarez said. (The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology at HHS, abbreviated ONCHIT or ONC, was created in 2004 to guide federal healthcare IT development efforts.)
Suarez said some work recommended in the plan has already begun. HITSP overhauled its Web site in March, for example, and it includes FAQs and some presentations and educational materials. Suarez said the work will continue to be done largely by HITSP volunteers.
"We did not really engage into a very lengthy discussion about the budget because we believe we can carry out the work without a lot of additional costs," Suarez said. "We're going to be keeping things much down into the lean and mean kinds of approach in developing tools that can be done on a volunteer basis without any costs or minimal costs.
"The most critical thing over the next 90 days is completing our HITSP webinars," Suarez said. "We have two already done. The next one is Thursday on the consumer empowerment use cases, understanding the standards that have been harmonized by HITSP related to consumers being able to access their information electronically from healthcare records or databanks out there. It's about the products and standards that can be used."
There will be six more webinars held every other Thursday, Suarez added.
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