HHS LAUNCHES NEW EFFORTS TO PROMOTE PAPERLESS
HEALTH CARE SYSTEM
July, 2003 The US
Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) Secretary Tommy
G. Thompson has announced two new steps in building a national
electronic health care system that will allow patients and their
doctors to access their complete medical records anytime and anywhere
they are needed, leading to reduced medical errors, improved patient
care, and reduced health care costs.
First, the Secretary announced that the Department has signed
an agreement with the College of American Pathologists (CAP) to
license the College's standardized medical vocabulary system and
make it available without charge throughout the U.S. This action
opens the door to establishing a common medical language as a
key element in building a unified electronic medical records system
in the U.S.
Secondly, the Secretary announced that HHS has commissioned the
Institute of Medicine to design a standardized model of an electronic
health record. The health care standards development organization
known as HL7 has been asked to evaluate the model once it has
been designed. HHS will share the standardized model record at
no cost with all components of the U.S. health care system. The
Department expects to have a model record ready in 2004.
Today's announcements are part of the ongoing HHS effort to develop
the National Health Information Infrastructure by encouraging
and facilitating the widespread use of modern information technology
to improve the nation's health care system.
"Banks and other financial institutions all across the country
can talk to each other electronically, which has streamlined customer
transactions and reduced errors," Secretary Thompson said.
"We want to do the same thing for the American health care
system. We want to build a standardized platform on which physicians'
offices, insurance companies, hospitals and others can all communicate
electronically, which will improve patient care while reducing
the medical errors and the high costs plaguing our health care
With terms for more than 340,000 medical concepts, the College's
standardized system has been recognized as the world's most comprehensive
clinical terminology database available. The licensing agreement
with the CAP will make it possible for health care providers,
hospitals, insurance companies, public health departments, medical
research facilities and others to easily incorporate this uniform
terminology system into their information systems.
"This system will prove invaluable in facilitating the automated
exchange of clinical information needed to protect patient safety,
detect emerging public health threats, better coordinate patient
care and compile research data for patients participating in clinical
trials," Secretary Thompson said.
The CAP agreement announced today will be administered through
the National Library of Medicine (NLM), a component of HHS' National
Institutes of Health (NIH). NLM has issued a 5-year, $32.4 million
contract to the College for a permanent license for their terminology,
known as SNOMED (Systematized Nomenclature of Medicine) Clinical
Terms. The licensing agreement includes the core database in both
English and Spanish along with regular updates. The terms of the
contract include a one-time payment-shared by the Department of
Veterans Affairs, the Department of Defense, and many HHS agencies-with
annual update fees to be borne by the NLM.
"Today we take a bold step by making SNOMED available, a
critical step in adopting health information standards across
the federal government," Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony
J. Principi said. "Putting health information standards in
the public domain and promptly adopting health information standards
for the federal health partners, is the 'tipping point' for national
standards that strengthen our electronic health record systems,
help optimize our health care, and, most importantly, improve
the health of veterans as well as all of the people of the U.S."
"The Department of Defense is pleased to have contributed
to the government-wide effort to license SNOMED. This effort will
enable us to better share health information within the Federal
government and beyond. I am delighted with our Federal partnership
in this important step toward improving health care for all Americans,"
said Dr. Winkenwerder, assistant secretary of defense for health
"This license validates the College's longstanding support
for the development of medical standards like SNOMED to further
improve the quality of health care. It ensures that government
and the private sector entities in the U.S. will be able to use
a common approach to clinical coding, making it easier to coordinate
care and exchange needed information," said Paul A. Raslavicus,
MD, president of the CAP.
The contract between NLM and the College of American Pathologists
comes after three years of negotiations. The effort was supported
by all the agencies participating in the Consolidated Health Informatics
initiative (CHI), which is working to adopt government-wide standards
for clinical health data. CHI is the health care component of
President Bush's eGov Initiatives, created under the President's
Management Agenda, to make it easier for citizens and businesses
to interact with the government, save taxpayer dollars and streamline
citizen-to-government transactions. More information on CHI and
the President's eGov Initiatives may be found at http://www.egov.gov.
NLM will distribute SNOMED through its Unified Medical Language
System, which incorporates, links, and distributes in a common
format 100 different biomedical and health vocabularies and classifications.