Editor's Corner

HHS official offers mixed health IT advancement assessment

While only a "small number" of U.S. healthcare providers have fully adopted health IT because of significant cost and other barriers, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has made progress advancing usage with an array of project funding, vendor certification and standards adoption work,the HHS Director of Information Technology Issues said in testimony before Congress.

HHS and its Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT have made progress through work with the American Health Information Community (AHIC) commission by awarding big contracts in late 2005. The contracts were designed to help define certification criteria for and certifying electronic health records (EHRs), identify interoperability standards to facilitate exchange of patient eData, define requirements for the development of prototypes for the Nationwide Health Information Network, address privacy and security issues connected to the nationwide exchange of health information, and take steps to "integrate public health into a nationwide health information exchange," Director David Powner testified before the House's Subcommittee on Federal Workforce and Agency Organization, Committee on Government Reform.

Certification criteria have been defined for ambulatory EHRs and 22 EHR vendors have achieved certification, Powner said (But is that certification as impressive as it sounds? See the Spotlight below). "Additionally, 90 interoperability standards have been selected for areas such as [EHRs] and public health detection and reporting," he added. AHIC has also formed a workgroup to specifically address confidentiality and security issues, Powner said.

But Powner reminded Congress that "many policy makers, industry experts, and medical practitioners contend that the U.S. healthcare system is in a crisis" due in part to too many medical errors and inefficiencies for healthcare delivery. Health IT can be leveraged to address many of those negatives, Powner noted. The federal government has a "central role in shaping nearly all aspects of healthcare industry as a regulator, purchaser, healthcare provider, and sponsor of research, education, and training," Powner said. "Given the level of the federal government's participation in providing healthcare, it has been urged to take a leadership role in driving change to improve the quality and effectiveness of medical care in the United States, including an expanded adoption of IT." To access the full testimony and report, check out this Web site (.pdf). - Michael