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No One-Sided Solution in Building Health IT Network, Says Blumenthal

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blumenthalWhen it comes to building a nationwide health IT network, there is no “one size fits all” solution, said Dr. David Blumenthal, national coordinator for health IT.

The Nationwide Health Information Network is not a network in a literal sense but more of a set of standards, services and policies enabling the Internet to be used for the secure exchange of health information to improve health and health care, Blumenthal said.

“To make meaningful use possible, including the necessary exchange of information, we need to meet providers where they are, and offer approaches that are both feasible for them and support the meaningful use requirements of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Electronic Health Record Incentives Programs,” he said.

Reliable and secure options aligning with the long-range information exchange vision of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT need to be available to enable providers to become meaningful users of electronic health records in 2011, Blumenthal said.

“Such an option should balance the need for a consistent level of interoperability and security across the exchange spectrum with the reality that not all users are at the same point on the path to comprehensive interoperability,” he said.

He said broadening the use of the NHIN to include a wider variety of providers and consumers who may have simpler needs for information exchange is critical to strengthening health information exchange and meeting ONC’s initial meaningful-use requirements.

The recently launched NHIN Direct Project is designed to identify the standards and services needed to create a means for direct electronic communication between providers. Blumenthal said the project is meant to enhance the capabilities offered by other means of exchange.

Blumenthal said he and his office are on an “aggressive timeline” to define these specifications and standards and to test them within real-world settings by the end of 2010. He said timing is critical so that this resource can reach more participants in health information exchange as meaningful users prepare to qualify for incentives provided for in the HITECH Act.

“This model for exchange will meet current provider needs within the broader health care community, complement existing NHIN exchange capabilities, and strengthen our efforts toward comprehensive interoperability across the nation,” he said.

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