October 8, 2003

The Honorable Tommy G. Thompson
Secretary
Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue SW
Washington, D.C. 20201

Dear Secretary Thompson:

The National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics (NCVHS) commends your leadership to enhance the nation’s healthcare delivery system through the application of information technology. Your vision aptly emphasizes the need for a comprehensive National Health Information Infrastructure (NHII) to assure quality health care for all Americans. Much progress has been made through initiatives led by your Department, such as the Consolidated Healthcare Informatics Initiative, the licensing agreement with the College of American Pathologists for SNOMED-CT, the recently concluded NHII 2003 Conference and the appointment of a Senior Advisor on the NHII.

In a hearing before the NCVHS NHII Workgroup on January 27th, we heard about advanced Internet technology from several experts in the private and public healthcare sectors. We were told that the present Internet, a key technical component of the NHII, will reach capacity constraints within a decade. We also learned about several federal research and development projects underway that are vital to the development of a coordinated, comprehensive NHII. One such interagency program is the Federal Networking and Information Technology Research & Development Program, a $2 billion federal program. DHHS participants in this program include NIH and AHRQ. Other agency participants include the Department of Defense, Department of Energy, and the National Science Foundation. The Program is designed to develop and deploy vital networking technologies on the Next Generation Internet. These technologies can enable healthcare applications such as medical consultation at-a-distance and surgical simulation. They can facilitate essential collaboration among clinicians and researchers as well as the migration of care into the home.

To ensure that the requirements of the health sector and public health interests are adequately represented in this process, NCVHS recommends the Department increase the participation of HHS agencies in federal interagency IT research and development initiatives that are working to advance an improved national networking information infrastructure. Regardless of how this increased participation is accomplished, the Committee recommends that you indicate your support for this participation in the strongest terms.

As other federal agencies have observed, we anticipate this activity will result in optimization of research and development efforts to meet the needs of the NHII and possible system operation savings.

Sincerely,

/s/

John R. Lumpkin, M.D., M.P.H.
Chair, National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics

Cc: HHS Data Council Co-Chairs


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