There Is No 'One-Size-Fits-All' in Building a Nationwide Health Information Network


A Message from Dr. David Blumenthal, National Coordinator for Health Information Technology


Private and secure health information exchange enables information to follow the patient when and where it is needed for better care. The Federal government is working to enable a wide range of innovative and complementary approaches that will allow secure and meaningful exchange within and across states, but all of our efforts must be grounded in a common foundation of standards, technical specifications, and policies. Our efforts must also encourage trust among participants and provide assurance to consumers about the security and privacy of their information. This foundation is the essence of the Nationwide Health Information Network (NHIN).

The NHIN is not a network per se, but rather a set of standards, services, and policies that enable the Internet to be used for the secure exchange of health information to improve health and health care. Different providers and consumers may use the Internet in different ways and at different levels of sophistication. To make meaningful use possible, including the necessary exchange of information, we need to meet providers where they are, and offer approaches that are both feasible for them and support the meaningful use requirements of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Electronic Health Record Incentives Programs.

To enable a wide variety of providers – from small practices to large hospitals – to become meaningful users of electronic health records in 2011, we need to ensure the availability of a reliable and secure "entry level" exchange option that aligns with the long-range information exchange vision we have for our nation. Such an option should balance the need for a consistent level of interoperability and security across the exchange spectrum with the reality that not all users are at the same point on the path to comprehensive interoperability. In an effort to provide the best customer service possible, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) will consider what a complete toolkit would be for all providers who want to accomplish meaningful health information exchange.

Your continued input will help guide us toward and maintain a direction that is in harmony with the rapid innovations in health IT today. The NHIN Direct Project will conduct an open, transparent, and collaborative process throughout its development by using a community wiki, blogs, and open source implementation already available on the project's website ( I encourage you to participate through the website, via public participation at the implementation group meetings, and by deploying and testing the resulting standards and specifications.

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