Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Direct Project Pilot Programs Launched

Today we celebrated another milestone on the Nation’s journey to better health care through the use of electronic health records and health information technology. We launched two pilot projects – one in Minnesota and the other in Rhode Island – for easily and securely transmitting personal health information via the Internet. These efforts – combined with others that will soon be underway in New York, Connecticut, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Texas, and California – mean we’re on schedule with a very important new tool that will soon enable health care providers to safely transmit patient data over the Internet, instead of relying on mail and fax. This is a significant step toward meeting ONC’s commitment to make health information exchange (HIE) accessible and practical for all the nation’s clinicians.
HIE is one of the primary benefits that can be derived from adopting health information technology. HIE means your records can be shared among your doctors, without getting lost or delayed. It means your hospital discharge instructions can be provided instantly to your physician – and to you. It means that if you are in an accident and arrive in the ER unconscious, your record can be made available, and the care you receive can be that much safer and more effective.
Since last year, HHS has been supporting a new initiative, the Direct Project, to provide an early, practical option for health information exchange. Even while other work goes on to build a more complete HIE infrastructure, Direct aimed at rapidly developing a system that providers could use soon, to support the simpler information exchange functions that they need the most.
This project started only 10 months ago, in March 2010. Now, the launch of pilot programs means that we’re on schedule to take it live, and make safe, Internet-based transfers of most-used health information a reality in the United States. That will enable existing electronic exchanges to become more standardized and convenient. And it will enable many more providers, and many more data transactions, to take advantage of the HIE benefit.
How was this fast-paced development achieved? Actually, by adopting some lessons from the IT sector itself. We set aside the “top down” approach that’s traditional for government. Instead we invited private companies (including some well-known competitors!) and public sector entities to work together, on a volunteer basis, to respond to the need for a leading-edge HIE option. Here was the challenge: Give us an easy-to-use tool, with consensus specifications, that will support HIE for the most common clinical information needs – and deliver a useable result for providers in less than two years. 
And it’s working. Employing the principles and practice of “open government,” as championed by the President, these different stakeholders worked together and delivered a product, which is now in its testing phase. These same stakeholders will go out, we hope, and develop competing products based on the very standards they worked together to assemble!
It’s time for new ways of achieving the public good. The national push to health information technology is one new horizon. And the “open government” principles that today are delivering an entry-level HIE system, ahead of schedule, are yet another. 
It is indeed a milestone worth celebrating.

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