The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is moving quickly to establish a public-private body to help develop standards and strategies for the interoperability of electronic health information. In officially announcing the creation of the American Health Information Community (AHIC) last Thursday, HHS gave the general public only until Aug. 5 to nominate candidates for the 17-member panel, which will include eight people from the federal government, one from state government, and eight representing private interests.
HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt plans to lead AHIC. "As secretary of HHS, I need to chair this, and I will," Leavitt said last month. (See http://www.bio-itworld.com/hitw/enews/new/06-09-2005_604.html/view.) The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONCHIT), currently headed by David Brailer, M.D., will provide "management and support" services for AHIC, according to HHS.
The draft charter that will govern AHIC calls for the group to recommend how to: secure electronic data and protect patient privacy; build an Internet-based national health information network; help the health-IT industry create processes for private-sector standards setting and harmonization, as well as product certification; and prioritize implementation of proven technologies such as electronic prescribing, laboratory reporting, and public health surveillance tools. HHS will finalize the charter by July 29.
Many in the private sector are heralding the announcement as an opportunity for the federal government to assert some leadership in overcoming barriers to widespread adoption of interoperable electronic health records.
"In all my policy work, there is a lot of provider-level demand for government participation, especially in standards development," says Alan Ying, M.D., chief executive of Mercury MD, a Durham, N.C.-based vendor of healthcare software for mobile devices. Ying is on the policy committee of the National Alliance for Health Information Technology and also is involved in several state-level connectivity projects. "I think it's appropriate and timely," Ying says of Leavitt's plan. "Whatever people's criticisms of it are, I don't think anybody has proposed anything better."
Daniel Sands, M.D., vice president and chief medical officer of ZixCorp (Dallas), which provides connectivity and secure communication services to healthcare organizations, offers qualified praise for the initiative. "I think that it has the potential to be a very, very good thing," he says. "Obviously, the devil is in the details," Sands says. He says that AHIC's success ultimately will depend on whether the public accepts and adopts the panel's recommendations.
HHS is chartering AHIC for two years, with options to extend it for up to three additional years. The plan is for the panel to give way to a private-sector organization within five years. "I think it's good that it's not an ongoing, eternal process," Sands says.Those wishing to submit nominations for AHIC should send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (866) 505-3500 no later than Aug. 5.