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10/6/2005
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U.S. Awards Contracts To Spur Development And Use Of Interoperable And Secure Health IT

The contracts were awarded to three private-public groups that will create and evaluate processes involved with advancing the adoption of standards for features in healthcare IT products.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday said it has awarded three contracts that will help spur the adoption of IT—most notably as electronic medical record systems—by the healthcare industry.

The three contracts, totaling $17.5 million, "are not traditional government contracts," said David Brailer, National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, in a teleconference announcing the awards.

The contracts were awarded to three private-public groups—not commercial companies—that will create and evaluate processes involved with advancing the adoption of standards for features in healthcare IT products related to their interoperability and data portability; privacy and security; and clinical decision support, said Brailer.

Among those contracts is a $3.3 million award to the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), a non-profit organization that administers and coordinates the U.S. voluntary standardization activities. ANSI will work with the government's Health Information Technology Standards Panel; U.S. Standards Development Organizations and other stakeholders to "develop, prototype, and evaluate a harmonization process" for achieving a widely accepted and useful set of health IT standards that will support interoperability among healthcare software applications, especially digital health records, says Brailer.

Also, a $2.7 million contract was awarded to the Certification Commission for Health Information Technology (CCHIT) "to develop criteria and evaluation processes for certifying" that digital health record software, and the infrastructures or network components through which they interoperate, meet those developing standards. Among other benefits, these upcoming health IT product certifications would help alleviate the fears of many hospitals and doctors who often resist or delay purchasing and deploying new clinical software because they're not sure if their investments will end up being in technologies that can't interoperate or share data with the systems of other providers and healthcare players.

The largest contract—$11.5 million—was awarded to RTI International, a private, nonprofit corporation that will oversee another new private-public group called the Health Information Security and Privacy Collaboration. HISPC is a new partnership consisting of a multi-disciplinary team of clinical and technology experts and the National Governor's Association. Brailer said the HISPC will work with about 40 states or territorial governments to assess and develop plans to address variations in organization-level business policies and state laws that affect privacy and security practices which may pose obstacles to the interoperable exchange of patient's health information between states and cities.

The contract awards come on the heels of another U.S. health department announcement yesterday, which also aims to help fuel the adoption of health IT. The department has proposed easing so-called "anti-kickback" regulations so that doctors could lawfully accept donations of software, hardware, and services related to electronic health records, E-prescriptions and other systems from hospitals and related entities.

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