Electronic health-record systems are often called a disruptive technology. Not surprisingly, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is having a disruptive influence on the status quo of the national healthcare information technology policy apparatus.
The new law, which passed and was signed by President Barack Obama in February, includes a huge section dealing with federal promotion of healthcare IT. It specifically calls for the creation of a healthcare IT standards committee to make recommendations to the national coordinator for health information technology at HHS about data standards, implementation specifications and certification criteria for electronic exchange and use of health information.
Based on a description of the duties of the HIT standards committee in the recovery law, the committee will assume some of the activities now being performed by the Health Information Technology Standards Panel, which was created in 2005 as a private, not-for-profit organization but funded under a $3.3 million contract from HHS.
During a conference call Thursday with HITSP members, the organizations leadership announced it will be taking a 90-day hiatus from its scheduled business to focus on the needs outlined in the recovery act.
Under the George W. Bush administration, HITSP took its marching orders from HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt and an IT advisory panel he appointed called the American Health Information Community. Under that regime, HITSPs job was to identify the best data standards to facilitate the movement of healthcare information pursuant to specific data transactions, or use cases, given to it by AHIC.
HITSP still has several matters to work on in 2009 that it had been tasked with last year by AHIC, including tweaking some gaps and extensions from previously assigned use cases as well as coming up with harmonized standards for a whole new use caseexchanging information for newborn screening programs, according to HITSP Chairman John Halamka. That work will be put on hold, Halamka said, while the panel pivots to work on standards that electronic health-record systems will need to use to be compliant with requirements of the recovery act.
The new law provides billions of dollars in provider subsidies to purchase EHR technology, but with strings attached. It only will fund the purchase of certified EHR systems and pay subsidies only to providers who meaningfully use their EHRs for tasks such as electronic prescribing, exchanging information to improve quality and reporting clinical quality measures.
Halamka said he spoke to the membership about our need to reprioritize and work over the next 90 days on the stimulus bill.
Under the recovery act, by the end of this year the HHS secretary is supposed to adopt an initial set of standards, implementation specifications and certification criteria to facilitate EHR use. An HIT Policy Committee, also to be created under the recovery act, is to make recommendations to the HHS secretary in a whole host of areas where standards should be developed, including encryption, data exchange and the segmentation of data for privacy protection, among a list of suggestions in the statute.