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News Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, Oct. 6, 2005

Contact: HHS Press Office
(202) 690-6343

HHS Awards Contracts to Advance Nationwide Interoperable Health Information Technology

Strategic Partnerships with Public-Private Groups Will Spur Health IT Efforts

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) today awarded three contracts totaling $17.5 million to public-private groups that will accelerate the adoption of health information technology (health IT) and the secure portability of health information across the U.S. These groups will form strategic partnerships to develop the building blocks necessary for achieving the President’s goal of widespread adoption of interoperable electronic health records (EHR) within 10 years.

The health IT partnerships will: create and evaluate processes for harmonizing health information standards; develop criteria to certify and evaluate health IT products; and develop solutions to address variations in business policies and state laws that affect privacy and security practices that may pose challenges to the secure communication of health information. As part of the contracts, these partnerships will deliver reports to the American Health Information Community (the Community), a new federal advisory committee that is chaired by Secretary Leavitt and charged with providing recommendations to HHS on how to make health records digital and interoperable.

“These partnerships represent fundamental steps toward achieving the President’s goal of widespread use of electronic health records,” HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said. “Given what we recently experienced with Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the need for portable patient information that can follow the patient has never been more important.”

These three partnerships were established through contracts between private, non-profit entities and HHS. They are the result of three government Requests for Proposals (RFPs) that were announced by Secretary Leavitt and Dr. David Brailer, National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, last spring. The fourth RFP, for development of nationwide health information network (NHIN) architectures, will be awarded to one or more contractors later in 2005. HHS released the RFPs after receiving public comment on how best to achieve nationwide interoperability of health information through a Request for Information (RFI), published in January 2005.

“These contracts are a significant milestone in a broader strategy to spur technical innovation for nationwide sharing of health information and adoption of electronic health records,” said Dr. David Brailer. “This work will set the stage for an Internet-based architecture that will allow secure, timely and accurate exchange of health information among patients, clinicians, and other authorized healthcare entities.”

Contracts have been awarded to the following organizations:

Standards Harmonization Process: $3,300,000

Harmonization of data standards is fundamental to the success of widespread interoperability -- the seamless and secure exchange of patient information electronically. Today, there are many standards for health information exchange, but there are variations and gaps that hinder interoperability and the widespread adoption of health IT.

HHS has awarded a contract to the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), a non-profit organization that administers and coordinates the U.S. voluntary standardization activities, to convene the Health Information Technology Standards Panel (HITSP). The HITSP will bring together US Standards Development Organizations (SDOs) and other stakeholders. The HITSP will develop, prototype, and evaluate a harmonization process for achieving a widely accepted and useful set of health IT standards that will support interoperability among health care software applications, particularly EHRs.

Compliance Certification Process: $2,700,000

More then 200 EHR products are on the market, but there are no criteria for objectively evaluating product capabilities. This limits widespread investment in, and uptake of, these tools and hinders informed purchasing decisions. There are also no criteria by which communication architectures can be standardized in a way that would allow two different EHRs to communicate with each other.

HHS has awarded a contract to the Certification Commission for Health Information Technology (CCHIT) to develop criteria and evaluation processes for certifying EHRs and the infrastructure or network components through which they interoperate. CCHIT is a private, non-profit organization established to develop an efficient, credible, and sustainable mechanism for certifying health care information technology products. CCHIT will be required to submit recommendations for ambulatory EHR certification criteria in December 2005, and to develop an evaluation process for ambulatory health records in January 2006. Criteria will include the capabilities of EHRs to protect health information, standards by which EHRs can share health information and clinical features that improve patient outcomes.

Privacy and Security Solutions: $11,500,000

Regulations promulgated pursuant to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) established baseline health care privacy requirements for protected health information and established security requirements for electronic protected health information. Many states have adopted policies that go beyond HIPAA. The manner in which hospitals, physicians and other health care organizations implement required security and privacy policies varies and is tailored to meet their individual organizations’ needs. These variations in policies present challenges for widespread electronic health information exchange.

The Health Information Security and Privacy Collaboration (HISPC), a new partnership consisting of a multi-disciplinary team of experts and the National Governor's Association (NGA). The HISPC will work with approximately 40 states or territorial governments to assess and develop plans to address variations in organization-level business policies and state laws that affect privacy and security practices which may pose challenges to interoperable health information exchange. Overseeing the HISPC will be RTI International, a private, nonprofit corporation who has been selected as the HHS contract recipient.





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Last revised: October 06, 2005