Next Round of HHS Contracts Will Go to Users


NEW ORLEANS — The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will solicit bids starting in April for trial state, regional, and local user consortia to demonstrate health information exchange, the next round of contracts toward building a proposed National Health Information Network (NHIN), top health-IT officials say.

The new round of contracts will go to end users rather than the systems integrators that won NHIN bids in the fall of 2005, according to John Loonsk, director of the office of interoperability and standards in the HHS Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC). While the earlier awards were to test prototype architecture, “This year, we’re doing trial implementations,” Loonsk said here last week at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) annual conference. (See “HHS Publishes Four RFPs for Proposed Medical Internet.”)

Likely bidders should include states, regional health information organizations (RHIOs), and large private-sector healthcare organizations, Loonsk added.

Loonsk filled in some details after his boss, interim national coordinator for health-IT Robert Kolodner, dropped the news about the impending request for proposal during an unscheduled appearance after HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt’s keynote address to the HIMSS conference.

At a public ONC forum here earlier last week, Kolodner, indicated that his office was “in discussions” with the HHS Health Resources and Services Administration to align federal investments in health-IT with the goal of helping rural and underserved communities. He said that this strategy will be incorporated into the next round of NHIN contracts.

“At ONC, we’re continually mindful that healthcare is local,” Kolodner said.

Kolodner added that the forthcoming state/regional/local awards will mesh with an $800,000 contract presented last week to the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) and subcontractors HIMSS and the eHealth Initiative. That project will attempt to develop successful governance models for health information exchanges and provide guidance to others. (Information from previous AHIMA contracts with ONC is posted at www.staterhio.org.)

While work continues on the 2005 NHIN architecture contracts — scheduled to run for three years — Loonsk said that progress is ahead of expectations. “We were so pleased with what was accomplished in the first year that we decided it was time to move ahead with trial implementations at the state and regional and local levels,” according to Loonsk.

“The vision for the NHIN is to have a network of networks,” Loonsk said.

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