The contracts follow four previous ones for developing NHIN prototypes. The earlier projects, whose funding expired in January, included some of the health information exchanges (HIEs) that won contracts today.
Those selected are: CareSpark, Delaware Health Information Network, Indiana University, Long Beach Network for Health, Lovelace Clinic Foundation, MedVirginia, New York eHealth Collaborative, North Carolina Healthcare Information and Communications Alliance and the West Virginia Health Information Network.
Says HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt: "Trial implementations of the NHIN will bring us steps closer to a health IT system that will improve quality of care, increase efficiencies in health care and improve disease prevention."
According to Dr. John Loonsk, director of the Office of Interoperability and Standards in the HHS' Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, the new contracts represent an important and critical step toward meeting the Bush administration's goal of having electronic health records for most Americans by 2014. By creating a network over which such records can move, the administration expects to add to their value and usefulness in health care.
Loonsk added that though the HIEs did not have to be operational when they submitted their proposals, they had to demonstrate that they had assembled the necessary ingredients for an operational HIE. They had to show substantial participation from the medical community and an open governance structure.
HIEs are expected to exchange information securely with one another and within their organizations. They should also implement scenarios designated as priorities by the American Health Information Community, the high-level HHS advisory committee.
The contractors will have to work together through a NHIN Cooperative to be organized by the national coordinator's office. The cooperative will hold three public meetings and demonstrate its achievements next fall.
Meanwhile, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plan to award complementary contracts in December, with a focus on public health surveillance. Generally, HIEs are either nonprofit organizations or function under the auspices of state or local agencies, foundations or other nonprofit organizations.
Experts have speculated that HHS' decision might have discouraged some HIEs from seeking the contracts. Loonsk acknowledged that it narrowed the applicant pool to some extent but added that the national coordinator's office was pleased with the quality and diversity of the winning contractors.
In the previous phase, contracts were awarded to four systems integrators ;companies with long experience with federal contracting requirements. Three of those companies will serve as subcontractors in the latest phase of the program.
The contracts are for one year with two optional one-year extensions.