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TeleHealth, E-Prescribing and E-Quality Top HHS Secretary's List of Priorities During Midwest Tour

New York, Nov 19, 2007

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Michael A. Leavitt announced several advancements in the area of healthcare informatics during last week’s tour of the Midwest and a meeting of the American Health Information Community (AHIC). AHIC is the Federal Advisory Committee that HHS initiated to advise the Secretary on health information technology standards:

On Tuesday, November 13, Leavitt joined with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Kevin J. Martin to announce a $400 million Rural Health Care Pilot Program that would expand access to health care to America’s rural and underserved communities. Under the FCC’s leadership, the funds will support the creation of a broadband telehealth network that will serve 42 states and three U.S. territories, connecting 6,000 healthcare facilities.

Telemedicine programs reduce costs and travel time for consumers, decrease medical errors, and enable health care providers to quickly share critical patient care information electronically.

Commenting on the program, Chairman Martin said that the FCC looks forward to working with Secretary Leavitt and HHS to “advance initiatives that... support the creation of a national system for interoperable electronic health records...”

Secretary Leavitt, in turn, praised FCC’s efforts: “By advancing the broadband infrastructure needed to support health information technology, the FCC is moving us toward the President’s goal of ensuring most Americans have access to interoperable electronic health records by 2014.”

The Secretary also announced to AHIC that HHS, through the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, is proposing the adoption of new standards to advance the use of electronic prescribing (e-prescribing) of medicine.

The technology necessary to electronically receive and fill prescriptions exists in most pharmacies in the United States. However, only a small percentage of doctors use it.

“The benefits are unchallengeable,” said Leavitt in his November 16 blog entry. “E-prescribing is not only more efficient and convenient for consumers, but widespread use would eliminate thousands of medication errors every year.”

"At the AHIC meeting, we announced standards that will help to get us there," continued Leavitt. "We are starting with standards for providing medication history and for formularies so that providers have the information they need to write correct prescriptions. These two standards alone could go a long way to eliminating errors."

Earlier that day, during his keynote remarks to the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA), the Secretary renewed his call for the health informatics community to improve quality while maximizing the value of health services for all Americans.

“Every American should have access to a full range of information about the quality and cost of their health care options,” the Secretary has said.

Quality is one of the four cornerstones of Secretary Leavitt’s plan to create a national system of healthcare and one of the latest in a set of the AHIC Use Cases.

The Healthcare Information Technology Standards Panel (HITSP) and its Population Health Technical Committee have spent the past six months developing a draft Interoperability Specification (IS) on electronic quality monitoring (eQuality) that is to be submitted before year-end to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONCHIT).

The draft identifies a set of standards necessary to support 52 priority eQuality measures and a national system for electronic quality monitoring and interoperable data exchange. The draft was submitted for public review and comment in September and will be reviewed by the full HITSP in mid-December. If approved, the IS will be submitted immediately to ONCHIT and Secretary Leavitt.

Operating under contract to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the HITSP is administered by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) in cooperation with strategic partners including the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), the Advanced Technology Institute (ATI) and Booz Allen Hamilton. The HITSP delivered its first set of formal recommendations (i.e., Interoperability Specifications) to the American Health Information Community (AHIC) in October 2006.

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