NIST provides health IT standards source

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has created a Web site to search for and publish information in its repository for health care standards, organizations and related references. The online Healthcare Standards Landscape is designed to assist in standards development and their coordination, implementation and use.

Many health care standards exist or are in development, making it difficult to track the overall standards landscape, said Tom Rhodes, computer scientist at NIST's software diagnostics and conformance testing division. The landscape aims to be a comprehensive source of health care standards information and to encourage standards harmonization and collaboration. Standards organizations and others can add new material to NIST's repository.

However, the repository doesn't contain the actual standards, according to Rhodes. Some standards development organizations charge for access to standards, while others don't, but they are proprietary information.

'We must know what standards are available. We have to have some awareness and capability of knowing what those standards are and what they are for, who is using them,' he told a meeting of the Health IT Standards Panel, the collaborative group formed under a Health and Human Services Department contract to harmonize health IT interoperability standards.

The NIST Web site links to standards information from organizations such as Connecting for Health, Health Level Seven, the American National Standards Institute, the presidential e-government initiative, Consolidated Health Informatics, and HHS' Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

The standards panel is part of the initiative that national health IT coordinator David Brailer is leading to drive adoption of electronic health records and other health IT to reduce medical errors and improve quality of care.

The Health IT Standards Panel plans to develop a gap analysis by May of where new standards are needed and how to resolve that by June, said panel chair John Halamka, Harvard Medical School CIO. Meanwhile, the panel has begun the process to inventory current standards and will harmonize duplicate standards.

Relatedly, the Certification Commission for Healthcare IT, as part of its contract with HHS, announced yesterday that it selected six vendors to test the certification process it has developed for electronic health records for physicians' offices, said CCHIT spokeswoman Sue Reber.

'We did not name the vendors because we don't want to influence the market,' she said.

The California HealthCare Foundation partly funded the pilot for the development of test methods and procedures and to staff the coordination of the pilot, which ends in February. The commission anticipates announcing in June its first batch of vendors whose electronic health records will be certified as capable of being interoperable.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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