The Health Information Technology (HIT) Committee, a federal group working on the HITECH stimulus law, approved initial recommendations for data exchange and interoperability standards. Data exchange and interoperability is a requirement for meaningful use. Physicians must purchase and implement a certified system that supports the meaningful use requirements in order to qualify for reimbursement payments.

Meaningful use has four main functional requirements: computerized order entry, drug interaction checking, maintaining an updated problem list, and generation of transmissible prescriptions. A certified EMR system must provide these functions, and physicians must use them daily for all their patients. In addition, a certified EMR must be capable of sharing information and working with other systems.

Sharing information is one of the crucial requirements which physicians and vendors alike have been waiting for. Sharing information will help physicians work together when referring patients, or seeking information or advice on treatment plans, diagnosis issues, or other problems. Electronic information sharing will cut down on the amount of paperwork – specifically faxing, printing, filing, and mailing charts – that the office staff must do everyday. Eliminating the cost of managing paper can save a substantial amount of money for most practices.

The HIT Committee wisely chose existing data standards for their recommendations. Health Level 7 (HL7) is data standard based on the Extensible Markup Language (XML). HL7 was developed for earlier government programs, such as the Doctors Office Quality Information Technology (DOQIT) and Physicians Quality Reporting Initiative (PQRI). The HIT Committee also decided to use existing primary vocabulary standards, such as SNOMED, RxNorm, and others. This will ensure that all EMR systems measure and record data the same way.

Reusing existing standards is a wise decision because many vendors currently use them in their products. Developing new standards would take time and increase development costs, making it more difficult for physicians to participate in the stimulus program. Physicians will also benefit from using existing standards. Many are already familiar with SNOMED and RxNorm, which will reduce training time and allow physicians to implement and use their systems faster.

Interoperability requirements were one of the key things many physicians have been waiting on. Now that the initial recommendations have been approved, physicians should start transitioning from their current “wait and see” attitude into a more proactive shopping mode. Once the government starts their initial certifications in October, there won’t be any reason for physicians to delay. Getting started early is the key to successfully participating in the stimulus package and getting the highest reimbursement possible.

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Ryan Ricks

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