Are There Really Any Health IT Standards?

“What would you say to someone who says, ‘There are no standards [in health IT].’?” Someone in the audience asked this question last week of Jamie Ferguson, vice president of HIT Strategy & Policy for Kaiser Permanente, and keynote speaker for the IHE NA Connectathon Conference 2013, an event sponsored by IHE USA.

There were crickets for about 5 seconds – I suspect as everyone in the audience, including me, pondered a possible reply.  Jamie then responded with a sharp, “I’d disagree.  There are standards that are capable of many things – we just need to be using them.”

It was my first time at the IHE NA Connectathon and Conference.  I’d been hearing about this basement full of smart vendor programmers in downtown Chicago going at it for days to test their products against the latest IHE profiles and national health IT standards.    It was time to see it myself.  And, I LOVED it.

As executive director of the Health Story Project, I’d been working with IHE USA to include the HL7 Consolidated Clinical Document Architecture (C-CDA) in the Connectathon testing this year.   C-CDA, as you may know, offers a library of CDA templates, which specify the structure and semantics of clinical document types for the purpose of exchange.

Over two dozen vendors signed up to test for C-CDA – including a diverse group of EHR, document imaging and HIE vendors.  After knocking on the virtual doors of EHR and HIE vendors for years encouraging acceptance of CDA document types, I have to say that the Health Story members are thrilled about the potential uptake of C-CDA and its role in contributing to comprehensive electronic patient stories.


U.S. physicians create over a billion clinical notes each year.  These notes contain the lion’s share of the clinical record and continue to do so, even after EHR system adoption.  Most of this rich store of information is not available within the EHR unless rekeyed by referencing a printed copy of the note or keyboarded by physicians.  Sadly, yet today, our friends in dictation/transcription routinely suppress (dare I say, dumb down) their source data because EHRs cannot accept it, even when it is coded to a national, industry standard.  Even when the electronic source document contains discretely coded data – most EHRs are not yet capable of pulling it in.

So, Jamie’s response resonated with me. “There are standards…we just need to be using them.”  I’m encouraged by the testing I saw last week at the Connectathon and hopeful that this helps translate to real adoption in the field.

So, how would you answer the question?