HIT Panel Looks to Define Standards, Specifications Before Tackling Meaningful Use

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media , May 18, 2009

Just one week after its members were appointed, the new Health Information Technology (HIT) Standards Committee, which is advising the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, hit the ground running May 15 with its first meeting in Washington. Another panel, the Policy Committee, which is advising the national coordinator on implementation issues, met four days earlier.

Under an expedited process, the Department of Health and Human Services is requiring the standards group, which was created under the federal economic stimulus legislation earlier this year, to publish an interim final rule with an initial set of standards, implementation specifications, and certification criteria for electronic use and exchange by Dec. 31, 2009.

In a healthcare system, there is "no part of the picture . . . that is more important than how we manage information," said National Coordinator David Blumenthal, MD, in opening the first standards committee session. "And no part of the management of information is more important than the technologies that we use to provide that management capability."

Blumenthal said the management capability “is going to make healthcare better and more efficient. If it fails, we will have great disappointment and indeed great jeopardy for our healthcare system going forward."

John Halamka, MD, chief information officer at Harvard Medical School, and vice chair of the committee, said the panel may initially focus on health information technology standards in transmission and exchange related to electronic prescribing, laboratory results and clinical summaries, quality measurements, and care coordination.

"Then think about how to stretch ourselves a little bit so we can get to that 'meaningful use' you're looking for," he said.

Although there is now no "crisp description" of what “meaningful use" is yet, "we have from the policy . . . a direction where they are heading," he said.

Jonathan Perlin, MD, chief medical officer with the Hospital Corporation of America and chair of the Standards Committee, said that in many ways, the initial meeting may be most complex meeting "because it is one where we set the agenda [with] the pieces just beginning to come into play."

"But there are some things that I think we can reasonably anticipate," Perlin said. A committee's goal should be "to emulate [hockey star] Wayne Gretzky and skate . . . to where the puck will be."

Janice Simmons is a senior editor and Washington, DC, correspondent for HealthLeaders Media Online. She can be reached at jsimmons@healthleadersmedia.com.

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