Health Information Technology:

HHS is Continuing Efforts to Define Its National Strategy

GAO-06-1071T: Published: Sep 1, 2006. Publicly Released: Sep 1, 2006.

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As GAO and others have reported, the use of information technology (IT) has enormous potential to improve the quality of health care and is critical to improving the performance of the U.S. health care system. Given the federal government's role in providing health care in the U.S., it has been urged to take a leadership role in driving change to improve the quality and effectiveness of health care, including the adoption of IT. In April 2004, President Bush called for widespread adoption of interoperable electronic health records within 10 years and issued an executive order that established the position of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. A National Coordinator within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) was appointed in May 2004 and released a framework for strategic action two months later. In May 2005, GAO recommended that HHS establish detailed plans and milestones for each phase of the framework and take steps to ensure that its plans are followed and milestones are met. GAO was asked to identify progress made by HHS toward the development and implementation of a national health IT strategy. To do this, GAO reviewed prior reports and agency documents on the current status of relevant HHS activities.

In late 2005, to help define the future direction of a national strategy, HHS awarded several health IT contracts and formed the American Health Information Community, a federal advisory committee made up of health care stakeholders from both the public and private sectors. Through the work of these contracts and the community, HHS and its Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT have made progress in five major areas associated with the President's goal of nationwide implementation of health IT. These activities and others are being used by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT to continue its efforts to complete a national strategy to guide the nationwide implementation of interoperable health IT. Since the release of its initial framework in 2004, the office has defined objectives and high-level strategies for accomplishing its goals. Although HHS agreed with GAO's prior recommendations and has made progress in these areas, it still lacks detailed plans, milestones, and performance measures for meeting the President's goals.

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