Health IT networks to rely on standards, interoperability

BALTIMORE'The national health IT czar today listed areas in which industry has agreed to build a foundation for a national health information network.

Standards and interoperability are the overarching themes that emerged from comments in response to a request for information that the office of David Brailer, the national health IT coordinator, released late last year.

Consensus focused on partnerships between public and private organizations to set standards so health care providers can share information. The infrastructure would be made up of regional health information networks built on an open architecture and those national standards, yet reflect local differences, Brailer said.

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT will release the full report from the RFI as early as this week. Next, Brailer will announce how ONCHIT will use $32.8 million it has received in reprogrammed fiscal 2005 funding, but it will reflect the 'contours' of the RFI consensus, he said. President Bush has requested $125 million for Brailer's office in 2006.

Agreement among health care providers, software companies and health plans is key so that regional health networks can exchange information. 'We have numerous moving parts that have to move together,' Brailer told an industry conference sponsored by the Workgroup for Electronic Data Interchange in Baltimore. He wants to see interoperability among regional networks similar to what consumers have among different wireless phone providers.

Many standards and standard-setting organizations already exist, and what is needed is a process for harmonizing standards so those groups can agree on standards that will be usable in the future, Brailer said.

Roughly 80 small local health information networks have emerged around the country, but they are not able to exchange information. California and Florida are also beginning to work with industry on state networks. 'We could end up with regional silos,' Brailer said.

And rather than creating a new medical Internet, the health information network would build on the existing Internet because of its broad access, Brailer said. Public and private entities would participate in governing the networks and develop shared priorities.

President Bush last year said he wanted an electronic health record for most Americans in 10 years. The use of health IT, such as electronic records and electronic prescribing, will reduce the number of medical mistakes and improve the quality of care, both government and health care experts have said.

Government is using its influence as the nation's largest purchaser of health care to spur the health care industry toward adoption of technology and standards, Brailer said.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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