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HHS Says Health Records Should Communicate With Each Other. What Does That Mean?

By Mohana Ravindranath // April 8, 2016

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When a patient moves from one health system to another, there’s no guarantee his or her electronic medical records are compatible with the new system’s.

The Department of Health and Human Services wants to change that, with a number of efforts aimed at making electronic health record technology more “interoperable.”

But how does a health system measure “interoperability,” and how does the department know if it’s successful? HHS doesn’t know the answer -- and it’s looking to the public for help.

In a new request for information, HHS is asking for input on metrics that could measure interoperability. The eventual goal, according a recent blog post, is a national system in which “health data flows seamlessly and securely.”

Specifically, HHS wants to know which “populations and elements of information” it should examine, how current data and metrics can be used to assess progress, and what new data and metrics HHS should include when sizing up a health system’s “interoperability” levels.

Currently, HHS’ Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT is considering “nationally representative surveys,” gathered from hospitals and physicians, to assess progress, among other potential solutions, the RFI says.

The 2015 Medicare Access and...

FDA Crowdsourcing its Way to Precision Medicine. But What About Security?

By Hallie Golden // November 25, 2015

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When it comes to achieving President Barack Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative -- an effort to laser-target medical care based on patients' genetic make-up -- collaboration among researchers is key.

So a team at the Food and Drug Administration is launching a crowdsourced platform to provide a digital environment for members of the genomics community to work together.  

PrecisionFDA is a cloud-based research and development portal designed to allow researchers to analyze genome data and run comparisons against reference material, such as sample data widely accepted. FDA launched the project in July, and a team of developers devoted to the project released a closed beta version of the site earlier this month. In just a few weeks, the site will transition into a beta format.

But with the onslaught of federal agency breaches, the question of securing a platform containing piles of genome data that anyone could potentially access by simply applying for an account is an important one.

“Privacy and security is not something you sprinkle on top at the end,” said Taha Kass-Hout, FDA’s chief health informatics officer, in an interview with Nextgov. “We worried a lot about meeting industry standards and federal standards as far as the infrastructure...

Should VA Scrap VistA? CIO Evaluates Future of Home-Grown Health Records System

By Jack Moore // October 29, 2015

LaVerne Council, the assistant VA secretary for information and technology.
LaVerne Council, the assistant VA secretary for information and technology. // Veteran Affairs Department

The new top IT official at the Department of Veterans Affairs told lawmakers Tuesday she is meeting with her staff this week to discuss the future of a planned upgrade of the department’s in-house electronic health record system.

The meeting comes after an independent report by MITRE Corp. concluded the homegrown system, first developed in the 1980s and still highly rated by clinicians, is “in danger of becoming obsolete.”

Amid ongoing concerns about the multiple, failed attempts to develop interoperable electronic health records between VA and the Defense Department, the report recommended VA conduct a cost-analysis of upgrading the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture, known as VistA, compared to using open source EHRs and commercial off-the-shelf options.

LaVerne Council, the assistant VA secretary for information and technology and the agency’s chief information officer, will review the business case for the VistA upgrade along with VA Undersecretary of Health Dr. David Shulkin and then “determine the next steps,” Council told a joint congressional subcommittee hearing Tuesday.

VA, DOD Take Separate Paths on EHR Upgrades

In the two years since VA and DOD scrapped a plan to develop an integrated electronic health record, VA has been working on...

Pentagon and VA ‘Still Years Away’ from Fully Interoperable Electronic Health Records

By Jack Moore // October 27, 2015

Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo.,  blasted the “erratic history” of DOD-VA EHR integration, which stretches back to at least 1998.
Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., blasted the “erratic history” of DOD-VA EHR integration, which stretches back to at least 1998. // Chris Schneider/AP

The Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs are on course to blow past a congressionally mandated end-of-2016-deadline to fully deploy modernized electronic health record software that works across both agencies’ different health IT systems.

That’s according to a new assessment prepared for lawmakers from the Government Accountability Office.

“Establishing modernized and fully interoperable health record systems is still years away,” Valerie Melvin, GAO director of information technology issues, is expected to say in prepared testimony before two key congressional committees Tuesday.

Full deployment of an upgraded version of the in-house Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture, known as VistA, isn’t expected to be completed until 2018, according to GAO’s new assessment.

Meanwhile, a massive project at the Pentagon to replace the patched-over Armed Forces Health Longitudinal Technology Application, known as AHLTA, with commercial software is still in the early stages. DOD awarded a $9 billion contract to defense IT firm Leidos and EHR vendor Cerner this summer.

Still, full operational capability for the Defense Healthcare Management System Modernization isn’t planned until the end of 2022.

That’s well past a 2017 deadline originally envisioned by the two agencies when they committed to a now-scrapped...

HHS Focuses on Flexibility in New Health IT Plan

By Hallie Golden // September 22, 2015

Alex Brandon/AP

The Department of Health and Human Services doesn’t know exactly what technology or even health care will look like in 2020, so fittingly the agency's new 5-year health IT strategic plan is centered on flexibility.

On Monday, the agency released its final Federal Health IT Strategic Plan for 2015-2020, which is meant to boost everything from health IT infrastructure to community health. The report lays out the federal government’s current vision for health IT and key future efforts important for the future.

Health IT is quickly transforming. Four years ago, when HHS released its previous plan, the Affordable Care Act was in its early stages and mobile health applications were still in their infancy.

“During the past decade's information age, innovation and technological advancements have been difficult to predict,” said Karen DeSalvo, national coordinator for Health Information Technology, in a letter accompanying the report. “This plan aims to remain flexible to evolving definitions of health, health care and the technology developments that support them."

The plan is based on some 400 public comments and recommendations from the Health IT Policy Committee.

Here are some of the key federal initiatives the plan highlighted as beneficial for federal...