Roundup of National Health-IT Week


By Neil Versel

June 17, 2008 | WASHINGTON—Call it an embarrassment of riches. The schedule for what was dubbed National Health IT Week included a few smallish meetings, a lobbying trip to Capitol Hill, and a press conference or two. It turned out to be an opportunity for organizations to unleash an avalanche of health-IT news.

The biggest news of the week actually happened fairly quietly, via press release: The Department of Health and Human Services announced the 12 communities for its Medicare electronic health records (EHR) demonstration program. (See “CMS to Provide Financial Incentive in Program to Boost EHR Use.”)

Participating will be the states of Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Maine, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Virginia, as well as a collaboration between Maryland and the District of Columbia. Also selected were communities in the Jacksonville, Fla., Pittsburgh, and Madison, Wis., metro areas, as well as a South Dakota group that will include surrounding counties in Iowa, Minnesota, and North Dakota.

Louisiana, Maryland/D.C., Pittsburgh, and South Dakota will participate in Phase I, to start right away. Recruitment of physicians in these communities will begin in the fall, according to HHS. The other communities will take part in Phase II, starting in 2009.

HHS had the luxury of making that announcement from the air-conditioned comfort of its offices. Others were not so lucky. In the withering 96-degree heat during a noontime outdoor press conference on Capitol Hill, eight members of Congress and health-IT leaders from the private sector took the podium to say all the right things, even though the passage of meaningful health care reform legislation in a presidential election year didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in Washington. The exception might be an ePrescribing provision attached to a rollback of the 10.6 percent Medicare fee schedule cut set for July 1.

All the speakers wore jackets for appearance’s sake. Clearly, the photographic backdrop of the Capitol dome was more important than comfort. But there was some news made.

The Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology (CCHIT) kicked off development of its 2009 certification program by announcing the formation of a personal health records (PHR) advisory task force. While this does not mean the commission will begin certifying PHR products, it sets the groundwork for a possible future program, or perhaps inclusion of PHR criteria in existing EHR certification, according to CCHIT chairman Mark Leavitt. He will co-chair the PHR task force along with Palo Alto (Calif.) Medical Foundation informatics guru Paul Tang.

Later this month, the Markle Foundation will release a guide on accountability and transparency in the implementation of PHRs.

Other Health IT Week news includes:

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology announced that it awarded a $450,000 contract to Booz Allen Hamilton to study the extent of medical identity theft related to health IT.

A new effort, called the National Health IT Collaborative for the Underserved, will find ways to apply health IT to reduce health disparities in medically underserved areas. Participants include the HHS Office of Minority Health, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), the Summit Health Institute for Research and Education (SHIRE), the Kaiser Family Foundation, and IT integration firm Apptis.

The HIMSS Foundation launched a new organization for Washington-area health IT stakeholders called the Institute for e-Health Policy. It will be headed by Neal Neuberger, president of McLean, Va.-based consulting firm Health Tech Strategies.

The eHealth Initiative and the Center for Improving Medication Management issued a report on ePrescribing, with recommendations for accelerating adoption of the technology.

Kaiser Permanente released results of a survey that suggests the public is becoming increasingly aware of health management options available online, but that the health IT industry needs to step up its privacy and educational efforts.

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