Health IT panel urges patient e-authentication standards

The federal government should develop a nationwide patient authentication standard that protects individuals' information, and provide financial incentives to providers to foster the adoption of health IT, according to the federally chartered Commission on Systemic Interoperability.

Security and privacy were key issues among 14 recommendations made by the commission and contained in a report released yesterday to Congress and the Health and Human Services Department.

The commission provided a roadmap for the development of a drug record, which could serve as a model for developing other health care IT components, such as laboratory records, said the report, titled 'Ending the Document Game: Connecting and Transforming Your Healthcare through Information Technology.'

The commission, authorized by the Medicare Modernization Act, was designed to guide the public-private American Health Information Community in deciding on what initial cases and standards it should focus to encourage the use of health IT. The commission is expected to disband next month.

The group urged building on the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to develop national standards for authentication, authorization and security to gain consumers' confidence for connectivity.

The standard could include a unique patient identifier, and Congress should strengthen protections under HIPAA by authorizing federal criminal penalties against those who intentionally access protected data without authorization, according to the commission.

'It is clear that electronic records, appropriately secured, provide a great deal more confidentiality than paper records. But the patchwork of often contradictory state laws, rules and cases preclude the development of a national health information network,' said Scott Wallace, commission chair and CEO of the National Alliance for Health IT, an industry group.

The commission recommended that AHIC begin work toward an interoperable drug record for all Americans by 2010 as a breakthrough case.

Over the next two years, progress could be made so that standard drug names could be available online and assigned a product code, while the Food and Drug Administration could enable electronic labeling.

The report also called for standard product identifiers and vocabulary at the point of creation so labels and packaging for drugs and devices mean the same across the industry.

A drug record ultimately could include letting all of a patient's physicians know who is prescribing what medications, the drug interaction at the time of prescribing and surveillance capabilities after the medication is prescribed.

'The value of this technology from an access and interoperability point of view is that it will have the right information available in front of the right person at the right time,' said commission member Martin Harris, a physician and CIO of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Cleveland.

The commission provided support to some measures already proposed by HHS. The commission recommended interoperability standards so that physicians and hospitals can exchange data and incentives for adoptions of standards, such as pay for quality performance and exemptions from the physician self-referral and federal anti-kickback laws that aim to prevent fraud and abuse in health care.

The Commission on Systemic Interoperability is composed of private-industry representatives and housed in the National Library of Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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