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Michael  Leavitt, Secretary


American Health Information Community(AHIC)


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery to the American Health Information Community(AHIC)

Good morning.  Welcome to the first meeting of the AHIC in the New Year.

In fact, today is a milestone meeting for us in many ways.  It was just a little over two years ago that we first convened this group.

We shared a vision, and a basic understanding of the barriers to that vision.  The premise for establishing AHIC was that information technology can help us manage health care better than paper. 

Understanding that, we’ve been thinking big.  We’ve thought about ways consumers could be empowered to manage their health information and make better health choices for themselves.  We’ve thought about tools that could help providers deliver safer care that is more responsive to individuals’ needs.  And we’ve thought about ways we can have those things while improving incentives to reverse unsustainable cost trends.

We saw that many of the tools we need exist today in other areas of our lives — banking, travel, telecommunications.  But we saw that the major barrier keeping us from these benefits was a lack of harmonized standards.

Well, as you know, we called this group together to help us surmount that barrier and reach the benefits I’ve described.  You’ve all worked very hard over the past two years, and we have a lot to show for it:

  • We’ve established an infrastructure to drive our work on the ground in the form of work groups and nonprofit organizations.
  • Together, we’ve harmonized dozens of standards.  As of today, I’ve officially recognized 34 interoperability standards that lay a foundation for standards-based health information exchange.  This is not work we’ve done alone.  We’ve had the help of thousands of volunteers participate with HITSP [Health Information Technology Standards Panel] to help get us to this point.
  • We have grown our number of Use Cases from which more standards will flow. We had three in 2006, four in 2007, and six for 2008, which shows that we are accelerating..
  • To date, C-C-H-I-T has certified roughly 75 percent of the outpatient EHR products being used by doctors today. They have also certified more than a third of the vendors with C-P-O-E (Computerized Physician Order Entry) products for use in the inpatient setting.  In fact, just today, CCHIT is announcing its latest group of certified inpatient EHRs.
  • We have also launched trial implementations for the Nationwide Health Information Network to demonstrate possible configurations for secure interoperability.

To move this work even faster, HHS has put the considerable weight of Medicare behind it.

  • In October, we announced a new Medicare demonstration program that will incent providers in small to mid-sized physician practices to adopt interoperable EHRs.  We recognized that was the group we needed to build momentum. We’re going to pay them more if they can use certified EHRs to deliver high-quality care to patients.  By involving up to 1,200 of these providers in the demo, we expect to see 3.6 million Americans receive better care.

Just as important, we will learn how to make the best use of this technology for patients.

Many private insurance plans have since announced that they will take similar actions. This will rapidly multiply that effect.

  • In November, we proposed new standards for aspects of e-prescribing under the Medicare prescription drug benefit.  Adopting this rule helps providers connect to improve the safety and quality of care their patients receive.

At your encouragement, we have pressed hard on e-prescribing to make it a part of how we structure Medicare payments.

These are just a few of the highlights — much more work on this has taken place.  But these are really significant accomplishments and milestones.

Health IT has been identified as a key solution to many of our problems with health care for decades now.  I would suggest that over the past two years, we have made more systematic progress in advancing toward interoperability than has ever been made before.

I want to thank those of you here — and those of you who are not here today but have been instrumental in this work — for contributing your energy, your intellect, and your time to this process.  Our progress speaks to your talent and commitment.

I mentioned that today marks an important milestone for the AHIC.  In fact, today we are announcing the award of a grant to convene the AHIC 2.0. 

The award is being made to a well-qualified team — LMI in collaboration with the Brookings Institution. 

As you know, the Engelberg Center for Health Care Reform at Brookings has a sterling reputation for objective thought leadership.  The Brookings team has the experience and knowledge necessary to tackle policy challenges as complex as the ones we face in health IT.

LMI Consulting is a not-for-profit organization based in McLean, Virginia.  With 50 years of experience in managing Government contracts, LMI will provide valuable management and logistical support to the group.

I’d like to thank Larry Kocot from Brookings and Art Hamerschlag from LMI for joining us today.

Dr. Kolodner will say more about this grant in a moment.  But I’d like to make one important point before yielding the floor.

From the time the charter for the AHIC was written in 2005, we hoped and anticipated and planned that we would establish an organization and a process here to perpetually advance our vision and move it from Government to the private sector.

Awarding this grant today marks an important step in securing the future of all of this work.  By establishing the AHIC in the private sector, we can protect, perpetuate, and accelerate the progress we’ve made.

I do feel the need to highlight the last verb — accelerate.

Today also marks an important milestone for me, personally.  As of yesterday, I have exactly one year left at the helm of HHS to help advance our work here.  That is a truly motivating notion to me:  364 days.

I know that you are all accustomed to hearing me talk about urgency.  Well, you have another year to hear about it.  And Larry and Art, you will have a lot of work to undertake urgently to ensure that we reach our goal of a full transition to AHIC 2.0 by the end of this year.

I want to underscore that AHIC 1.0 does too.  We need to ensure that we continue to accelerate this work here so that there is acceleration — not a pause — as we make this transition.  We cannot afford to have a bobble or missed-step in this transfer.

I have full confidence that you can succeed.

With that, Kerry, do you have any comments you’d like to make?

Last revised: August 29, 2008