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National Quality Forum initiative targets health IT standards

By forming a committee to examine health IT standards, the National Quality Forum aims to meet a growing need for quality measures and standards development.

With much attention focused on the federal government’s health IT standards, it should come as little surprise that an organization known for endorsing quality measures and promoting standards development for health care has entered the health IT arena.

The National Quality Forum has rolled out several initiatives in the last six months to develop an infrastructure for managing and sharing quality information electronically. Now the standards-endorsing body is creating a board, dubbed the Health Information Technology Advisory Committee (HITAC), to oversee all its health IT projects. HITAC will provide strategic guidance for the NQF’s IT work, and make recommendations to the forum about issues related to health IT standards.

The NQF has issued a call for nominations of people who would like to sit on the board. Applications are due by Feb. 18, and the NQF expects to announce its panel in the spring.

The move comes as the federal government prepares to roll out a slew of health IT standards and requirements with which providers must comply to receive financial incentives. The requirements are explained in the proposed rule for the meaningful use of health IT, which was released in late December by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. A companion interim final rule outlines the standards for the technology required to support meaningful use.

Because some of the meaningful use criteria involve quality data reporting, the NQF’s projects are well timed, according to Floyd Eisenberg, a physician who is senior vice president for health information resources at the NQF. The projects’ goal is to create an infrastructure that enables the extraction of quality information directly from an electronic health record (EHR) or other electronic sources, without burdening medical professionals with time-consuming chart abstraction work and without asking them to collect administrative data. “To get to outcomes, you need clinical data,” he said.

Eisenberg, who also co-chairs the Healthcare Information Technology Standards Panel and served previously as a senior key expert with Siemens Healthcare, called the meaningful use proposal a balanced approach, allowing providers time over several years to roll out EHRs. “There are challenges no matter what approach we take to implementation,” he said.

If the measure defines it, there’s a way to get it out of the electronic record.
Floyd Eisenberg, M.D.senior vice president for health information resources, National Quality Forum

For the NQF, helping the medical industry meet those challenges includes developing tools that ensure an EHR system knows exactly how it is sending information from one place to another. For example, one of the meaningful-use requirements asks doctors to record patients’ body mass index. With the right quality measure and format, an electronic system will calculate height and weight automatically and deliver the information to the correct location for reporting purposes.

The electronic system conducts the transaction seamlessly instead of asking the doctors to manually calculate percentiles first, then determine where to put the information in a chart, Eisenberg said. “That’s very intrusive, and the goal is to avoid that. If the measure defines it, there’s a way to get it out of the electronic record.”

To that end, the NQF is working on several fronts. Among the goals and projects for HITAC, the NQF is continuing to develop a data set that defines quality information for sharing and reporting purposes. The NQF also is maintaining the Healthcare Quality Measure Format, an electronic measure that uses the quality data set and performs the calculations that automatically arrange information correctly. Software developers will have to create applications that can read this format.

In addition, the NQF is working under contract with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to retool some of its endorsed measures for the new electronic format. About 16 NQF-endorsed quality measures are included in the health IT standards of the proposed meaningful-use rule, and the federal agency wants to ensure those measures can be read and shared electronically, Eisenberg said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Jean DerGurahian, News Writer.

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