Q&A: Health IT Czar Rethinks National Data Exchange - InformationWeek

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Government // Leadership

Q&A: Health IT Czar Rethinks National Data Exchange

David Blumenthal talks about making national network accessible to small healthcare providers and also shares thoughts on the Massachusetts election, e-medical records use, and the health IT workforce.

InformationWeek: There's talk that the Health IT Policy Committee wants to recast the Nationwide Health Information Network as a set of policies, rather than a physical network that connects many different health information exchanges in the country. What's your vision for the best approach for providers to exchange of health information?

Blumenthal: Congress made it clear that the exchange of health information is a high priority. They included it as an essential part of meaningful use.

That's consistent with the general view that a lot of the value of health information comes from the ability to improve care coordination, to make records and information more complete, to enable physicians and clinicians of all types and hospital personnel to have a complete picture of a patient's health and healthcare so that they can make better decisions.

The Office of National Coordinator is still committed to developing the Nationwide Health Information Network. Many of our federal colleagues and quite a number of larger healthcare organizations are on the verge of using NHIN as it was originally conceived and configured for their own purposes, and we're continuing to invest in it.

At its last meeting the HIT Policy Committee adopted recommendations that they have not yet formally transmitted to me to encourage the development of a more flexible, adaptable, less complicated method of health information exchange than the Nationwide Health Information Network. And that's something that we'll be studying.

InformationWeek: How is the Nationwide Health Information Network being simplified?

Blumenthal: We have an obligation to make it possible for healthcare providers to become meaningful users of electronic health records. That's going to mean giving them options for exchanging health information—practical options.

It may be that those options will change over time just as meaningful use changes over time. We want to make sure what we do is develop exchange capabilities that are available to hospitals, physicians, nurses, and other health professionals who want to exchange information, and make sure they're practical and feasible to do without all the resources that big institutions have at their disposal.

That's our policy goal--there may be a simpler way than a full NHIN to make that possible in the short term. At the same time, the traditional, full NHIN remains a commitment of the Office of National Coordinator.

We're thinking about whether there are compatible versions of the exchange that require varying levels of sophistication and resources to participate, and have varying levels of capabilities over time.

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