Health IT czar urges quick standards development

The national health IT czar says development of interoperability standards will spark demand for electronic health records (EHRs). But health care providers have been slow to adopt EHRs and other health IT because they are unable to share data with other providers.

Yet this adoption gap provides an opportunity to develop national interoperability standards before too many providers have invested in health IT, said David Brailer, the national health IT coordinator based in the Health and Human Services Department.

Standards are the first priority for HHS' initiatives to create a national health information network that would enable providers to share patient data, Brailer told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee's Subcommittee on Technology, Innovation and Competitiveness.

'We're asking the contractors as soon as they're awarded to move within months to get the first diagnostic of what standards that we would need, so we can develop a system of standards, certification, architecture and security to be weaved together,' he said after testifying. 'Any one piece that slows down will slow down everything.'

HHS has begun work in collaboration with other organizations and through the procurement process to develop interoperability standards, a national health information infrastructure and a compliance certification process to ensure products are interoperable, and to unify various state privacy and security requirements that could impede data exchange.

'Interoperability alone will stimulate demand [for EHRs] and close the adoption gap because it will lower the cost of technology,' Brailer said. Currently, about 30 percent of the cost of EHRs is for custom integration. Existing EHRs typically can share patient data within a hospital or among neighboring hospitals. Interoperability standards should eliminate that extra cost. The majority of health- are transactions are still paper-based. With interoperability standards, 'Suddenly, clinical transactions that are moving around that are now on paper and valueless will have value when they're electronic,' Brailer said.

The administration has requested $125 million for the health IT initiatives. The House has approved the funding; the Senate has not voted on it yet. Members of the House and Senate have introduced several bills that would essentially codify Brailer's vision of a health information network. 'I'm very happy with the level of intelligence of the bills so far. They've really picked up the interoperability concept,' he said. But he also indicated he would not welcome any legislative provisions that could slow the process.

'This interoperability approach has got to move very quickly. Literally, if there were changes in the process, any of those would be speed bumps to slow it down,' he said.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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