The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) supports the announcement by Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson regarding the adoption of uniform standards for the electronic exchange of clinical information within the federal government.

The departments of Health and Human Services (HHS), Defense (DoD) and Veterans Affairs (VA) are the three agencies leading the way in this initiative, laying the groundwork for all federal agencies to use the same information technology standards for sharing clinical information.

According to the HHS announcement, these standards are part of the foundation of the National Health Information Infrastructure (NHII), which is a comprehensive, knowledge-based system that is intended to provide healthcare information to all who need it. This effort to standardize federal clinical health information is part of the Consolidated Health Informatics (CHI) initiative, the health care component of President Bush's eGov program to streamline citizen-to-government transactions.

"We applaud the federal government for taking this step forward, as others have previously, in recognizing the role standards such as Health Level 7 (HL7) and Digital Imaging Communications in Medicine (DICOM) play in the electronic communication of health information," said Joyce Sensmeier, HIMSS director of professional services. "But, as evidenced in our work with the Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise (IHE) initiative, this announcement just begins the process of building an effective health information infrastructure of systems that are interoperable and accessible."

Using the IHE framework as an implementation guide for interoperability enables adopted standards, such as those cited in the government's announcement, to be implemented consistently across multiple vendor systems. Standardized information exchange that has a positive impact on patient safety, said Sensmeier, will occur only after widespread adoption has been realized.

HIMSS members represent all facets of the industry that contribute to a common healthcare infrastructure. With that in mind, HIMSS created an NHII Task Force in 2002 to strengthen its advocacy efforts and work with the healthcare industry to further the development and implementation of this infrastructure. Additionally, HIMSS has been working to support the adoption and implementation of health information standards as evidenced by its sponsorship of the IHE initiative, membership in the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and participation as a founding member in the National Alliance for Health Information Technology (NAHIT).

HIMSS will continue to take a leadership role in assembling healthcare industry vendors, providers, payers and other professionals with government to achieve a new level of performance related to this issue. "Our strategy of bringing together relevant parties in the healthcare system is the first step of many that eventually will result in the adoption of a national electronic health record," said H. Stephen Lieber, HIMSS president and CEO. "We welcome the opportunity to work with other partners to achieve this goal."

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