The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services must come up with more specific plans for simplifying the exchange of electronic health information throughout the country.

David Powner, director of information technology management issues at the U.S. Government Accountability Office, makes that argument in testimony prepared for the House Subcommittee on Federal Workforce and Agency Organization.

President Bush called in April 2004 for widespread adoption of interoperable electronic health records within 10 years.

Doctors, hospitals, government health care agencies, private health carriers and other players in the U.S. health care system now use many different clashing systems to store and transmit health care and health finance information.

Representatives for private health insurers have argued that successful efforts to standardize the flow of information in the government health care sector could help streamline electronic data exchange in the private health care market and eliminate billions of dollars in administrative costs.

Although HHS has started to come up with general plans about how to proceed and has taken some of the steps described in its strategic framework, “it still lacks the detailed plans, milestones and performance measures needed to ensure that its goals are met,” Powner says in a written version of the testimony posted on the GAO Web site.

Officials responsible for turning the strategic framework into detailed plans and milestones could not say when that would happen, Powner says.

“Given the complexity of the tasks at hand and the many activities to be completed, a national strategy that defines detailed plans, milestones, and performance measures is essential,” Powner says. “Without it, HHS risks not meeting the president’s goal for health IT.”

A copy of the Powner’s testimony is on the Web at Document Link