BACKGROUND IMAGE: iSTOCK/GETTY IMAGES
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is a cabinet-level agency in the executive branch of the federal government. Its mission is to enhance and protect the well-being of all Americans by providing effective health and human services and fostering advances in medicine, public health and social services.
HHS is responsible for administrating programs that deal with health, welfare and health information technology (health IT). The Department works with almost one-fourth of all federal government expenditures and administers more grant dollars than all other federal agencies combined. HHS' programs are administered by 11 operating divisions:
- Administration for Children and Families (ACF)
- Administration for Community Living (ACL)
- Agency for Health Research and Quality (AHRQ)
- Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)
- Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
- Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)
- Indian Health Service (IHS)
- National Institutes of Health (NIH)
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
HHS also includes the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (USPHS), which is overseen by the surgeon general.
However, another important aspect of HHS' job is overseeing the implementation of certain types of health IT. The agency has been active in this area in several ways, including:
- Providing guidance for healthcare application development;
- Providing guidance to protect against ransomware attacks;
- Working toward fully understanding new cutting-edge technology such as blockchain; and
- Actively administering a health IT infrastructure.
Furthermore, the Secretary of HHS Sylvia Burwell has become a leader in the health IT space, including publicly speaking out about the adoption of electronic health records (EHR) and data blocking.
Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)
CMS administers the Medicare and Medicaid programs as well as oversees the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) and more.
In 2009, CMS was charged with several key tasks for advancing health IT via the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, including the implementation of EHR incentive programs, defining the meaningful use of certified EHR technology, drafting standards for the certification of EHR technology, and updating the health information privacy and security regulations under HIPAA.
Many of these efforts are being done in conjunction with the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), which also comes under HHS.
Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology
Former President George W. Bush created the ONC in 2004 and the office was written into legislation by the HITECH Act. The ONC's purpose is to promote a national health IT infrastructure and oversee its development. This includes policy coordination, strategic planning for the adoption of health IT and health information exchanges (HIE), establishing the Nationwide Health Information Network and promoting a national health IT infrastructure.
The ONC aims to achieve its ultimate goal, promoting a national health IT infrastructure, by improving the quality of healthcare while reducing costs; improving the coordination of care and information among hospitals, labs, physicians and other healthcare organizations; ensuring that personal health records (PHR) remain secure; and promoting the early detection, prevention and management of chronic illnesses.