HHS needs more detailed health IT plans

The Health and Human Services Department has made progress in several areas toward a national strategy to implement health IT but it needs to develop a plan with detailed milestones to meet the goals for electronic health records for most Americans by 2014, the Government Accountability Office said.

HHS' Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT has awarded contracts and taken steps to certify electronic health records, identify standards so providers can exchange information, define requirements for a nationwide health information network architecture, and address security and privacy issues for the nationwide network. HHS also plans to integrate public health systems on the network.

HHS leads the public-private American Health Information Community, which decides the direction of the health IT strategy and early versions of uses in electronic health record systems, bioterrorism, personal health records and chronic-care systems. AHIC recently formed a confidentiality, privacy and security work group to consider those issues in the early uses of health IT.

The health IT coordinator's office has initiated 10 of 32 general strategies towards meeting the health IT goal through the contracts it awarded, such as simplifying health information access and communication among clinicians, and ensuring federal agency compliance with health information standards. Six other strategies are under active consideration, said David Power, director of GAO's IT management issues, in his testimony Friday before a field hearing of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Federal Workforce and Agency Organization in St. Louis.

'While HHS has taken additional steps toward completing a national strategy and has initiated specific activities defined by its strategic framework, it still lacks the detailed plans, milestones and performance measures needed to ensure that its goals are met,' Powner said.

Daniel Green, deputy associate director of the Office of Personnel Management's Center for Employee and Family Support, told the subcommittee that as the administrator of the country's largest employee health insurance program, OPM plays a key role in making medical records and health information more easily accessible to consumers through the adoption of health IT.

OPM's chief priority in the health information arena was to implement the president's recent executive order to expand the availability of pricing and quality information to federal workers.

'Together, we believe health IT and transparency can drive better-informed and more rational medical-care decisions, resulting in cost reductions and better-quality care,' he said.

Health IT strategies that HHS has under consideration are:
  • foster economic collaboration for electronic health records adoption
  • stimulate private investment in tools that can access and integrate evidence-based information in a clinical setting
  • lower total cost of electronic health records purchase and implementation
  • support state and local governments and organizations to foster electronic health information exchange
  • establish value of personal health records, including consumer trust
  • develop patient-centric quality measures based on clinically relevant information available from interoperable longitudinal electronic health records.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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