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VA/DoD joint office gets new director

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Former Harris Corp. executive Barclay Butler has been appointed director of the DoD/VA Interagency Program Office (IPO), which oversees the agencies’ integrated electronic health record project and other joint initiatives.

Barclay, who served as vice president of healthcare operations for Harris’ Falls Church, Va., office, started work at the joint office on Feb. 27, DoD announced Tuesday. David Wennergren, DoD’s assistant deputy chief management officer, had been serving as interim director since July. The director position required approval from VA and DoD secretaries.

As director, Barclay is also the program executive for the iEHR and the health portion of the Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record (VLER) initiative, according to a charter signed by VA Deputy Secretary Scott Gould and then-Deputy Defense Secretary Bill Lynn in October. Barclay must also acquire, develop and integrate “major joint DoD/VA health (information technology) capabilities for the iEHR and VLER health,” the charter said.

Barclay was appointed one day before VA canceled a $102.6 million contract to manage a critical portion of the iEHR. 

The contract was awarded on Jan. 13 to Fairfax, Va.-based ASM Research Inc. to manage a portion of the iEHR, called the enterprise service bus, which will allow various components of the future system to communicate with each other and with VA and DoD health information stored in data centers. The contract was awarded under VA’s $12 billion Transformation Twenty-One Total Technology, or T4, program.

DoD and VA share a $700 million combined budget for the iEHR this fiscal year, and the joint program office is responsible for the program’s success, said VA’s Chief Information Office Roger Baker said in an interview last month.

The charter also tasks the office director with reporting staff shortages “for any areas that may impact the ability to deliver capabilities on schedule.” By 2014, the departments hope to provide a single virtual access point for health and benefits services. The program office will determine how many employees are needed to staff the office, and personnel working on office programs or initiatives will be evaluated by the director or deputy director.

 DoD would not say if a deputy director has been named.

“If they want to completely insulate themselves from any change issues relative to politics,” the joint office must meet every program milestone, Baker said.

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HHS launches healthIT.gov

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Health and Human Services last week launched a new website aimed at educating providers and patients on the benefits and role of health information technology in delivering better care.

HealthIT.gov ”is designed to invite active participation and make complex subjects relatable,” said Peter Garrett, with HHS’ Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, which created the website. ”It lets personal stories fuel the national movement toward adoption of EHRs [electronic health records]. It puts the “I” in Health IT.”

Patients can find information about their privacy rights, talking points about health care to discuss with their doctors and stories from other patients. Healthcare professionals can view details on how to transition to electronic health records and learn how other doctors are using health IT.

The announcement coincides with new proposed rules to strengthen patient’s access to their health information using health IT, specifically laboratory results. The proposed rule, drafted by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, HHS’ Office for Civil Rights and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, would allow patients to access their test results directly from the lab upon request.

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ONC to offer cash prizes for health IT ideas

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The federal office overseeing the nation’s transition to electronic health records plans to award $5 million in prizes to spur innovation in health IT.

A new program launched by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology will award $5 million in prizes to spur innovation in health IT through challenges.

Investing in Innovations or (i2) The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology will introduce up to 15 prize competitions  each year until March 2013, according to ONC. For example, software developers could be asked to build new tools allowing for health care providers and patients to share information electronically or new applications allowing for patients to download their clinical information.

The program, called Investing in Innovations or (i2), is similar to efforts by other agencies such as NASA, which that use public competitions to increase citizen engagement and solve tough problems.

Under the 2010 America Competes Reauthorization Act of 2010, more agencies were given authority to host prize competitions.

A website launched by the General Services Administration in September — challenge.gov — allows agencies to populate the site with challenges offering monetary awards, blogs, and discussion boards and monetary awards. Nearly 100 challenges are posted on the site.

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Feds, industry talk cyber, healthcare and procurement

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I’ve heard several remedies in the past few days for curing government’s acquisition woes.

The latest: turn the tables and create an industry scorecard for government’s past performance on acquisitions. At least that’s what one fed proposed during the Executive Leadership Council CXO Roundtable event on Tuesday.

The candid discussion among nearly 500 feds and industry covered healthcare, cybersecurity and consolidation issues facing government.

Here are some of the results from a poll conducted at the event:

- 53 percent think the implementation of meaningful use requirements (financial incentives and rewards for meaningful use of certified electronic health records) will increasingly challenge healthcare over the next several years.

- 53 percent said that to a very large extent extreme oversight causes a culture of fear that stifles innovation and risk taking in favor of compliance and cost, preventing agencies from taking advantage of new business models.

- 37 percent said a strained acquisition workforce is the major acquisition challenge blocking initiatives that are important to the organization’s success.

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ONC awards funding for final extension centers

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The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology has awarded $9.8 million in funding to stand up the last of its regional extension center (REC) programs in California and New Hampshire.

CalOptima Foundation received $4.7 million to assist doctors and providers in Orange County adopt electronic health records, and ONC awarded Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative $5.1 million to aid providers in New Hampshire.  A total of 62 centers now span across every region in the country.

Over the next two years, $677 million will be disbursed incrementally to support the RECs as they help priority primary care providers achieve meaningful use.  

ONC also announced expanded coverage areas for existing RECs in Florida:

  • Community Health Centers Alliances will cover additional areas in Glades and Hendry counties.
  • Health Choice Network of Florida will cover additional areas in Indian River, Palm Beach, St. Lucie, Martin and Okeechobee counties

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HIT program gets $20 million boost

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The Health and Human Services Department has awarded an additional $20 million to aid critical access and rural hospitals in adopting electronic health records.

The added boost will provide technical support to about 1,655 critical access and rural hospitals in 41 states and the nationwide Indian Country, according to a Sept. 10 news release.

The money will flow through regional extension centers (REC) that were created to help health care providers adopt electronic health records and achieve meaningful use. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology awarded more than $640 million earlier this year to 60 existing entities that now operate as RECs across the country.

This additional funding will be dispersed to 46 of them thanks to provisions under the Health Information Technology Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act

“Regional Extension Centers are poised to provide the hands-on, field support needed by health care providers to advance the rapid adoption and use of health IT,” said Dr. David Blumenthal,  national coordinator for health information technology, in the release. “The added level of support we are announcing today will enable the RECs to offer greater field support to these communities as they deal with the financial and workforce constraints, and work to achieve access to broadband connectivity and to overcome other barriers that critical access hospitals and other rural hospitals may confront.”

RECs are expected to be self-sustaining by mid-2012, and the goal is to serve at least 100,000 providers that have small practices, or serve the uninsured and underinsured.

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