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Federal health IT strategic plan seeks to shape future policy

Major themes of the federal health IT strategic plan, which should be finished this fall, include meaningful use, data security, and patient education and engagement.

As policymakers continue to develop a federal health IT strategic plan, concerns about patient engagement, data security and measurable outcomes will help shape the plan.

The strategic plan workgroup of the Health IT Policy Committee held a public forum this week to hear feedback and take questions and comments from industry stakeholders, providers and the public. During the three-hour session, the workgroup outlined the four sections of the framework -- being developed under a mandate through the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) -- and accepted feedback from participants.

The workgroup will continue to revise the draft and present it to the full policy committee during its April 21 meeting. ONC's goal is to have the final framework ready for implementation by this fall.

The present work being done continues that of the original Federal Health IT Strategic Plan published in 2008, which focused on efforts to implement interoperable health IT through 2012. When the stimulus law passed last year, and as part of it the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, the ONC was mandated to update the original plan.

Four categories -- a learning health system, meaningful use of health IT, policy and technical infrastructure, and privacy and security -- comprise the draft framework, which sets out to guide health IT implementation while closely following various mandates established through the HITECH Act. It focuses on the same time period -- 2011 through 2015 -- that the HITECH Act establishes for providers to adopt technology.

With the meaningful use category, especially, the workgroup wants to ensure the framework matches goals set forth by the Department for Health & Human Services, said Paul Tang, a physician who is vice president and chief medical information officer (CMIO) of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation and co-chair of the workgroup. "We're trying as hard as we can in capturing these milestones."

We're trying as hard as we can in capturing [meaningful use] milestones.

Paul Tang, Vice President and CMIO, Palo Alto Medical Foundation

At this point the plan looks at broad strategies, but the workgroup assured participants that the federal health IT strategic plan eventually will include specific measurements and objectives for meeting goals after the framework is implemented. "This is the high-level prioritization," said Jodi Daniel, director of ONC's office of policy and research and co-chair of the strategic plan workgroup. "But we will plan to flesh that out."

Education also plays a large role in the different aspects of the framework. Through the learning health system component, the workgroup wants to explore different options for engaging patients in their own care and helping them be good patients, according to Patricia Brennan, a registered nurse who is a professor and chair of the Department of Industrial & Systems Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Brennan is a member of the federal health IT strategic plan workgroup.

But the framework is not just about patients becoming more engaged. It will include a focus on providers who are not affected by incentive programs through the HITECH Act, but who will be affected nevertheless by the increasing amount of technology used in health care. The meaningful use category looks at ways to encourage providers other than doctors and hospitals who will need to use such technology as electronic health records to communicate with health agencies, pharmacies and other organizations, Tang said. "There are still a lot of programs influencing everyone."

Including them in the patient education outreach will require public campaigns like those around using seatbelts or reducing drinking and driving, Tang said. "We need to almost go out with that kind of level of effort."

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

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