First Health Info Technology Coordinator Will Implement Standards for Records

Article excerpt

David J. Brailer has been appointed national health information technology coordinator, a new position at the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

"Health information technology promises huge benefits, and we need to move quickly across many fronts to capture these benefits," HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said of the appointment. "We need more than a business-as-usual approach."

Thompson also announced several new actions in developing standards:

* HHS and other federal agencies will adopt 15 additional standards agreed to by the Consolidated Health Informatics (CHI) initiative to allow for the electronic exchange of clinical health information across the federal government.

* The medical vocabulary known as SNOMED CT can be downloaded for free for use in the United States through HHS' National Library of Medicine. SNOMED CT, created by the College of American Pathologists, is a key clinical language standard needed for a national health information infrastructure.

* With HHS support, the voluntary international health standards-setting organization known as Health Level 7 has approved a functional model and standards for the electronic health record. The model is a significant step toward establishing nationwide guidelines for electronic health records.

According to HHS, these actions move the nation closer to a national, interoperable health information infrastructure that would allow quick, reliable, and secure access to information needed for patient care, while protecting patient privacy. Such a system would allow a doctor or healthcare provider to access an always-up-to-date electronic health record of a patient who has agreed to be part of the system, regardless of when and where the patient receives care.

President Bush has established a national goal of assuring that most Americans have electronic health records within 10 years.

One of Brailer's first tasks will be to study options to create incentives in Medicare and other HHS programs to encourage the private sector to adopt interoperable electronic health records. It is estimated that a national health information network can save about $140 billion per year through improved care and reduced duplication of medical tests.

In addition, the new office will work closely with the other HHS offices responsible for medical privacy and security regulations to ensure these efforts continue to secure and protect individually identifiable health information. The office will prepare recommendations on methods to assure that the interoperable health information technology appropriately addresses privacy and security issues, such as appropriate authorization, authentication, and encryption of data that is being transmitted over the Internet.

Brailer is a senior fellow at Health Technology Center in San Francisco, where he has advised various regional and national efforts on IT and health information exchange. He previously served for 10 years as chairman and CEO of CareScience Inc., a healthcare management companies. While at CareScience, Brailer designed and oversaw the development of the health information exchange technology implemented in Santa Barbara County, CA.

Brailer holds doctoral degrees in both medicine and economics.

As part of the CHI initiative, HHS and the other federal departments that deliver healthcare services--the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs--are working with other federal agencies to identify appropriate, existing data standards and to endorse them for use across the federal health care sector. …