SAN DIEGO—With standards to ensure electronic health record interoperability likely on the way in a few years, the next focus, according to National Health Information Technology Coordinator Dr. David Brailer, should be on gearing up regional health information networks.
In a keynote speech here at the annual meeting of Chicago-based HIMSS (Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society), Brailer argued that the establishment of effective RHIOs (regional health information organizations) is the next big step along the path to widespread adoption of health care IT.
“Early attempts at health information networks failed, largely because of proprietary systems,” Brailer said.
He announced that in the next few months his office will be initiating an evaluation of the current RHIO efforts that is intended to provide a benchmark for these networks and help to shape the federal policy around them.
“Its time for us as a nation to support the maturation of our RHIOs,” Brailer said. “We need to deal with how they vary in terms of their technology, their solutions and their approach.”
He also addressed what the relationship between regional networks and a national network might look like, and said that mandatory participation for RHIOs in a national network is not on his agenda.
“We dont want to have an imposed network or a loose set of networks that are only effective locally,” Brailer said. “Were trying to walk down the middle. We view the National Health Information Network as a set of tools and services that a regional network could use.”
When asked whether there would be a national regulatory agency to oversee the National Health Information Network, Brailer responded that there is a role for the government in overseeing it but hes not certain what that will look like. He mentioned the Federal Aviation Agency and the Federal Communication Commission as potential models for the regulation of the National Health Information Network.
Brailer said he hoped to have a better sense of what kind of regulatory structure would be the most appropriate by the end of this year.
Brailer also set out several goals for RHIOs over the next three years, addressing their breadth of reach and accessibility. The goals include that every state have its own regional health information network and that states with multiple organization have one overarching state RHIO.
Of the $116 million fiscal year budget request for 2007, about two-thirds is expected to be tied up in ongoing initiatives. Evaluating and encouraging RHIOs is likely to be the only new major project undertaken with this budget, according to Brailer.
Brailers keynote kicking off the HIMSS conference was addressed to an ever-growing and enthusiastic health IT audience. Attendance at the conference is expected to reach about 25,000 this year, up about one-quarter from last year. Similarly, the more than 800 exhibitors increased their ranks by almost one-quarter in 2006.