OMB to grade agencies on health IT interoperability plans

Agencies must finalize plans by Jan. 1 on how they will incorporate health IT standards and quality metrics in their contracts, said Karen Evans, the Office of Management and Budget's administrator for e-government and IT.

The date reflects the timeline in an August White House executive order for agencies to include health IT interoperability standards, and quality and price transparency when they acquire and update systems for health data exchange. Agencies are to push those requirements out to contractors as part of doing business with the government.

OMB will use a familiar scorecard approach to track agencies' adoption of health data standards, federal IT systems development interoperability criteria and price and quality measures developed through the Health and Human Services Department, she said. The scorecard will help identify issues for agencies.

'We need to make sure there is a lot of clarity for these agencies so they know exactly what those milestones are and what activities they need to meet those milestones to achieve the objectives and then what other unanswered policy questions need to be answered so they can execute the intent of the order,' Evans said yesterday at a health IT event sponsored by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association's Bethesda, Md., chapter.

With the executive order, the White House wants the federal government, the largest purchaser of health care, to promote quality and efficiency in health care delivery. For example, the Office of Personnel Management will include health IT requirements when it negotiates federal health insurance plans next year, she said.

'Agencies already have a lot of health IT activities that they are doing, but this will put it all in one place. This will bring their plan together in a cohesive way so we know what kind of activities are going to be happening,' she said

When agencies need to invest in system upgrades, OMB will evaluate their business case to determine if it supports the executive order and if not how to improve it, she said. Agencies will have to assure that they embed interoperability standards in components they add to systems.

HHS will ask the National Institute of Standards and Technology to certify adopted health IT interoperability standards under the Federal Information Processing Standard.

The executive order chiefly applies to HHS, OPM and the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments. It will also apply to other agencies that provide or process some health data, such as the Energy Department, which has health information systems to track exposure of workers to nuclear materials.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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