Health IT is creeping into high gear

Health IT may seem like it's been awfully slow in getting off the ground, but actually a number of initiatives have been laying the groundwork for a program that about to move into high gear.

Health IT may seem like it's been awfully slow in getting off the ground, but actually a number of initiatives have been laying the groundwork for a program that about to move into high gear. That's what David Brailer, national coordinator for health IT, tells Government Computer News.

Like the gears of a complex machine, he said, the health IT efforts are beginning to mesh and are building a national momentum that promises to change the way physicians go about the business of providing health care and change the way Americans receive it.

“These are all different gears that have to turn together to get the wheel to turn. What’s happening is that they’re all turning and they’re turning slightly out of speed with each other, but they’re all starting to get cranked up,” Brailer said.

But even folks on the project say it's time to show some tangible results, even if the long-term payoffs are still off in the future.

Robert Cothren, chief scientist for Northrop Grumman Corp., one of the contractors for a nationwide health information network architecture, said: “It’s one thing to talk about these things. But if you can touch it and feel it, then you start to believe the stories,” he said.

Brailer agrees. “We want to peel off the low-hanging fruit in May if we can to get started. We’re facing real deadlines for getting some breakthroughs out,” he said.

Currently the goal is to set standards and certification criteria by the end of the year. The first set of standards is for portability of lab results. Vendor's health records systems will shortly be certified as well. But standards need to be set for a wide range of areas, and some of the debates there have been quite "fractious." And there's still the matter of security, privacy, and anti-fraud laws. Lots of work but still ...

Ultimately, the adoption of interoperability standards and common terminologies will let scientists mine huge amounts of medical data to identify trends and best practices, said Dave Webster, certified executive IT architect at IBM Corp.’s Business Consulting Services.

“I am convinced that the next big medical breakthrough will occur once we make the use of standard, clinically-relevant codification schemes the rule rather than the exception,” he said.

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