Massive collaboration needed for health care IT interoperability

Massive collaboration needed for health care IT interoperability

The federal government, states and industry will have to collaborate in order to achieve a health care system made up of interoperable local and regional networks, Health and Human Services secretary Michael Leavitt said today.

HHS will first request that states determine the privacy and security problems that could impede interoperability as they digitize health care information. For example, privacy and security regulations under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act provide baseline safeguards, but a number of states have more stringent requirements. Variations in privacy and security standards can impede interoperability, Leavitt said.

HHS will soon release details of how the federal government will promote collaboration, including helping set up and fund standards organizations outside of government.

'It's time for us to make a forced march commitment,' Leavitt said at the National Association of State CIOs' midyear conference in Washington.

Regional health networks will depend on standards and an open architecture to be interoperable. The problem is that many standards already exist. Large hospitals and physician practices are increasingly using IT in health care. 'But it's a massive number of systems that can't interact with each other,' Leavitt said

Government currently pays for 46 percent of U.S. health care costs and thus can influence and encourage standards for interoperable networks.

Leavitt said federal and state government can bring private and public participants together to collaborate and develop standards and encourage industry to agree on standards. Government can also be an early adopter of health care IT. 'And after a time in the future, after everyone has had a chance to know about this, we're going to insist that those who do business with us adopt those standards,' he said.

HHS has requested $125 million in the fiscal 2006 budget to coordinate and support health IT programs across government through the office of David Brailer, the national coordinator for health IT, which is working with agencies involved in delivering health care, such as Defense, Veteran Affairs and the Indian Health Service.

There is an economic imperative to adopt health IT for its potential cost savings, Leavitt said. Health care today costs $5,700 per person annually, compared with $143 in 1960. Health care consumes $1.7 trillion annually and accounts for nearly 16 percent of the total economy.

Leavitt yesterday released a 500-day plan of department priorities, including advancing health IT. Among the priorities is a national collaboration initiative to further develop, set and certify health information technology standards and outcomes for interoperability, privacy and data exchange. HHS is also committed to realizing the near-term benefits of health IT in the areas of adverse drug incident reporting, e-prescribing, lab- and claims-sharing data, clinic registrations and insurance forms.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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