Washington, D.C. – The Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation today held a hearing to examine progress on the development and implementation of interoperable technical standards and conformance testing procedures for health information technology (HIT).

“Effective utilization of information technology in the medical field has the potential to fundamentally change healthcare in our country,” said Subcommittee Chairman Ben Quayle (R-AZ).  “Application of health IT could lower health care costs by reducing duplicative and unnecessary tests and procedures.  It could also lead to more effective care by helping to reduce medical errors and could help to improve public health outcomes by aiding in clinical decision making.”

However, Quayle raised concerns about the lack of progress made towards greater interoperability of health IT systems.  Quayle stated that, “without interoperability, many of the potential benefits of health IT could go unrealized.”

The hearing reviewed the activities of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in promoting interoperability through the development of technical standards for HIT, and examined the implementation of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act. 

The HITECH Act, enacted in 2009, provides mandatory funding through Medicare and Medicaid incentive payments to encourage providers to adopt and “meaningfully use” certified electronic health records. To qualify under “meaningful use,” providers must show that they are achieving specific milestones, such as using certified HIT products to record patient data, to order prescriptions, and to make referrals to other providers.

Dr. Charles H. Romine, Director of the Information Technology Laboratory at NIST said that, “The creation of an integrated healthcare information infrastructure depends on all parties involved in the healthcare enterprise—consumers, healthcare professionals, researchers, and insurers—and on having systems, tools, and information that are complete, correct, secure and interoperable.”  Dr. Romine said that achieving this would require “…the availability of healthcare information standards that are complete, implementable, testable, and that contribute to interoperability.”

Testifying on behalf of Intermountain Healthcare, Mr. Marc Probst said, “We must set a clear road map and support an exchange infrastructure and the adoption of standards that will make it easier to share health information so clinicians and patients have the information in the form and time they need it to make appropriate healthcare decisions.”

Mr. Probst noted that “What may seem like small steps required by Meaningful Use, are actually big efforts for provider organizations and if not done correctly will not only fail to achieve greater efficiencies for healthcare, but could ultimately create less secure and less safe healthcare delivery.”

Although witnesses agreed that there has been progress on electronic health record adoption, significant progress is needed to ensure communication between different health IT systems. Mr. Probst noted that even today “Heroics are required to share even basic information between systems.”

The following witnesses testified today:

Dr. Farzad Mostashari, National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology

Dr. Charles H. Romine, Director, Information Technology Laboratory, National Institute of Standards and Technology

Mr. Marc Probst, Chief Information Officer and Vice President, Information Systems, Intermountain Healthcare

Ms. Rebecca Little, Senior Vice President, Medicity

Dr. Willa Fields, DNCs, RN, FHIMSS, Professor, School of Nursing, San Diego State University