HHS, advisory group advance lab data-sharing

The Health and Human Services Department took steps toward making an early version of an interoperable electronic health record system a reality. HHS and its public-private advisory group, the American Health Information Community, this week set dates for milestones toward a standardized and widely available system that will be available next year to access laboratory results.

The advisory group, which is comprised of hospitals, physicians and insurers recommends to HHS how to make health records digital and interoperable while protecting patient privacy and the security of those records.

By October, the Health Information Standards Panel, which HHS contracted to establish standards for interoperability, will recommend vocabulary, messaging, and implementation standards for reporting the most commonly used lab test results. That will give the Certification Commission for Health IT time to include those standards in its next set of interoperability criteria in March 2007 for product certification.

At the same time, the advisory organization will name a subgroup to evaluate privacy and security protections, such as patient identification and authentication, as they pertain to short-term health IT projects instead of recommending a privacy policy that would encompass all health IT efforts.

'We've been good at focusing on breakthrough projects. We need to get the water all the way to the end on one piece and then you can add others,' said HHS secretary Mike Leavitt, who also leads the advisory group.

HHS will determine which models for lab data exchange require guidance as they relate to existing laws, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act or HIPAA.

'HHS could look at the guidance or methods within the statute to remove barriers to patient-centric information, where latitude is included,' said David Brailer, outgoing National Coordinator for Health IT. His last day is today and he is returning to the private sector, but he will remain vice chairman of the advisory group.

By year-end, federal health care systems will develop a plan to adopt the standards endorsed for lab data interoperability. HHS plans to engage the National Governors Association to resolve variations in the definition of 'authorized person' under state laws to define access rights of family members to electronic lab reports.

The group made recommendations for other short-term health IT uses. Besides the capability to exchange lab results, other early health IT uses are establishing standards for exchanging secure messages between a patient and physician to help manage chronic conditions; patient medical registration and medication data to retire the medical clipboard; and emergency room complaint data for biosurveillance.

The advisory group also adopted criteria for certification of electronic health records for physician offices or any walk-in health facility. The Certification Commission for Health IT, which developed and tested the required capabilities under a $2.7 million HHS contract last year, will expand certification to inpatient electronic health records in 2007.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.


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