HHS still to define next health IT steps: GAO

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT has taken steps to develop a national strategy for adoption of health IT, but market institutions that would support its goals currently do not exist, the Government Accountability Office said in a new report.

Certification organizations, group purchasing entities and low-cost implementation support organizations are necessary to support medical providers and lower their risk as they acquire and use IT, the Government Accountability Office said in the report released today.

ONCHIT, a unit of the Health and Human Services Department, has made progress in coordinating federal health IT efforts and reaching out to the private sector to develop standards and certification procedures for health IT interoperability. But ONCHIT has not defined plans for the coming phases.

'Without defined milestones, it remains unclear when the important activities of Phase 1 will be completed to provide the building blocks needed to support the activities of the subsequent phases,' said the report, authored by David Powner, director of GAO's IT management issues, and Linda Koontz, director of GAO's information management issues.

HHS secretary Mike Leavitt provided a 500-day plan for his administration recently, which includes transformation of the U.S. healthcare system. HHS anticipates convening a national collaboration under the leadership of David Brailer, the national health IT coordinator, to further develop, set, and certify health IT standards and outcomes for interoperability, privacy and data exchange.

'Nearly all health records can be linked through an interoperable system that protects privacy as it connects patients, providers and payers'resulting in fewer medical mistakes, less hassle, lower costs and better health,' said HHS acting inspector general Daniel Levinson.

Brailer anticipates releasing a document shortly that is the result of industry comments to a request for information last year and will detail strategies on which industry agrees to move health IT adoption forward.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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