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Network of RHIOs to Aid in Establishment of Nationwide Health Information Network

New York, Feb 23, 2006

In a recent speech, “Reforming HealthCare for the 21st Century,” President George W. Bush emphasized the need to modernize the nation’s healthcare system. Calling for improved healthcare at lower costs, the President underscored the importance of the Nationwide Health Information Network (NHIN), an initiative he announced in 2004 to establish the adoption of electronic healthcare records (EHRs) within ten years.

“[It is] important to apply modern information technology to our medical system,” Mr. Bush said. “Doctors practice 21st century medicine; they still have 19th century filing systems. This is an important issue. We’re on our way to providing a nationwide information network.”

EHRs, which are expected to enable safe, cost-efficient, and quality healthcare, were a topic of discussion last week at the 2006 Annual HIMSS (Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society) Conference & Exhibition. The conference provided a forum to examine the latest issues in healthcare today.

In a keynote speech at the conference, Dr. David Brailer, national coordinator for health information technology, addressed the role of regional health information organizations (RHIOs) in facilitating the interoperable and safe sharing of electronic health records among physicians, hospitals, pharmacies, and laboratories. Announcing that standards and guidelines covering RHIOs would become a priority for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONCHIT) this year, Dr. Brailer stated that within a month, ONCHIT would release a new contract addressing RHIO practices and detailing their role within the NHIN.

According to ONCHIT, sixty-six RHIOs are currently involved in sharing electronic health records, and thirty states have instituted or passed legislation supporting statewide adoption of healthcare IT. Dr. Brailer anticipates that a network of RHIOs could provide a means of exchanging patient data nationally.

“If we have RHIOs governing themselves locally, there needs to be something that ties them together,” Dr. Brailer said. “I did not start out by believing the national solution will be a network of regional networks. Our goal with the national health information network is to allow those who do not want to [participate in RHIOs] do not have to do it. We want RHIOs to know where we are heading so they can make their plans accordingly.”

President Bush’s 2007 fiscal year budget provided increased funding for health information technology, granting ONCHIT $116 million, an increase of 90% over 2006. The budget specified the development and implementation of health IT standards as a priority, committing the Administration to focus on “areas of standards implementation, additional standards development and harmonization, alignment of agency investments, and increased interoperability.”

In October 2005, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) awarded a contract to the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) to establish the Healthcare Information Technology Standards Panel (HITSP). HIMSS serves as a strategic partner with ANSI in this initiative. The HITSP serves as a cooperative partnership between the public and private sectors for the purpose of achieving a widely accepted and useful set of standards specifically to enable and support widespread interoperability among healthcare software applications, as they will interact in a local, regional and national health information network for the United States. Comprised of a wide range of stakeholders, the Panel will assist in the development of the NHIN by addressing issues such as privacy and security within a shared healthcare information system.

Click here for more information about participating in the HITSP.

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