HHS team to develop health architecture

Melissa Chapman

Laurie DeWitt

The next step for a federal health architecture is, well, the architecture.

The Health and Human Services Department by early next year plans to detail its initial strategy for integrating government health care programs. The first version of the architecture will focus on systems that monitor infectious diseases and food safety.

As the lead agency on the collaborative effort, HHS has formed a steering committee with representatives from the Agriculture, Defense, Energy, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs departments and the Environmental Protection Agency, said HHS CIO Melissa Chapman.

HHS last week launched a Web site for the health systems architecture at www.hhs.gov/fha. It includes information about the team's vision and objectives and will let other agencies and organizations offer ideas about the project, said John Teeter, associate director of IT architecture at HHS' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Budget request

The department is finalizing the business case for the health architecture. HHS will submit it next month to the Office of Management and Budget as part of the department's fiscal 2005 budget request.

The seven agencies are building related systems that will be part of the umbrella architecture. For example, EPA has EPAnet, which will serve as a data-sharing infrastructure for agencies. And CDC spearheads a public health information network that handles infectious disease surveillance.

The steering committee is working on plans for the first components of the architecture, which will identify the common functions among federal health programs. Officials hope to broaden the scope of the project to include state and local governments, companies and other interested organizations, Teeter said.

'Between now and February, we will take a first cut at fleshing out [the architecture] with all of our partners,' he said.

The 2001 anthrax attacks demonstrated the need for an integrated approach across federal, state and local health agencies for information, policies and medical care, Chapman said.

Chapman noted some obvious examples of where there is no cooperation. For instance, HHS' Food and Drug Administration and various agencies within Agriculture work on food safety, but no significant integration of IT exists between them, she said.

Then there are projects that could be expanded further, Chapman said, and pointed to efforts by Defense and VA to share patient health records. The project could benefit HHS programs, too, she said.

The federal health architecture will outline how agencies can mesh their efforts. 'The architecture defines the framework with guidance, which agencies will then use to implement interoperable systems,' Teeter said.

It will also establish standards'such as information transport protocols, health data standards, Extensible Markup Language tags and Web services'that agencies can use, he said.

The foundation

The health architecture will be built on the HHS enterprise architecture. The planners will use the tools created by the OMB Federal Enterprise Architecture Project Management Office, Teeter said.

'We're simply going to take policies and processes from the Federal Enterprise Architecture and apply it very specifically to health,' Chapman said. Despite overlaps among the architectures of the agencies involved, the collaboration will allow the best designs and software features to stand out from the rest, she said.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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