HHS launches plans to push health care IT

The Health and Human Services Department today unveiled its initial plans to accelerate building a health information infrastructure to reduce medical errors and improve patient care.

The framework outlines how the government will promote wide adoption of electronic health records, prescriptions and physician orders over the next 10 years.

A task force, which HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson assembled, will report in October its assessment of the costs and benefits of health information technology to physicians, hospitals and consumers.

The report will guide HHS as to what kind of incentives will help drive faster adoption of health care IT, Thompson told reporters at the HHS-sponsored Secretarial Summit on Health Information Technology in Washington.

'We have reached the tipping point today, that critical mass where it is acknowledged that technology is here to transform medical care,' he said.

HHS is working with industry groups and private organization and using its influence as the largest payer of medical claims to drive use of health care systems. (Click for GCN coverage)

The National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, Dr. David Brailer, said the framework 'moves us from a period of discussion into a period of rapid action.'

HHS will issue a request for information in August about the requirements for private-sector groups that would form to develop and operate a health information network.

HHS envisions a network of interoperable local and regional health information networks. To that end, HHS' Health Resources and Services Administration announced it awarded $2.3 million in seed funds to nine regional health information organizations. HHS' Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has already earmarked $50 million for grants to be awarded in September to projects to demonstrate the value of health care IT in hospitals, clinics and physician practices.

HHS is also considering ways to work with industry to develop minimal product standards for electronic health record functionality, interoperability and security to increase their use and reduce the risk of product implementation failure. Electronic health records and components such as decision support software are different from other clinical tools in that they do not need to meet minimal standards to be used to deliver care, Thompson said.

HHS' Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is developing a Medicare beneficiary portal, to give seniors access to personal health information and about their medical claims.

A pilot portal, in testing now, will be conducted in Indiana later this year. By yearend, CMS will also provide preventive care information geared to a Medicare recipient's health condition.

CMS also plans to accelerate publication of standards for e-prescribing from 2005 to later this year. The Medicare reform bill requires e-prescribing by 2009 as part of the drug benefit program, which takes effect in 2006.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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