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Uncle Sam Wants You

September 1, 1998
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ARE YOU INTERESTED in helping set technical standards for the healthcare industry here and abroad? The ante is surprisingly modest. Just commit $500 and a portion of your time, and you can become a member of the United States

Technical Advisory Group (TAG). This influential committee for healthcare informatics is within Technical Committee 215 of the International Committee for Standardization (ISO), a kind of United Nations of standards.

Unfortunately, decision-making power within the U.S. TAG rests with only a select few U.S. healthcare representatives, says C. Peter Waegemann, chair of the newly formed U.S. TAG and executive director of the Medical Records Institute.

Hammering out standards

The narrow representation is surprising considering the incentives that exist for helping to drive TAG decisions. U.S. TAG is a working group within ISO/TC215, which will change the standards adoptions process as well as the way in which industry functions, Waegemann says. "ISO/TC215 is likely to have more impact on healthcare than either Y2K or HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996]." But if the U.S. TAG is indecisive about any healthcare informatics questions, it runs the risk of defaulting major standards decisions to the technical committees of 21 other member countries.

The ISO deals with its many standards issues through focused technical committees, such as the ISO/TC215. Each country with active membership in ISO/ TC215 has one vote. Led by acting chair Peter Treseder from Australia, 22 countries are currently represented. Before an ISO/TC meeting, each country must hammer out its proposals and consolidate its differences in technical advisory group meetings. Only the country’s voting representative can speak on behalf of his or her country’s position at the ISO meeting.

The ultimate goal is for the ISO, through its technical committees, to adopt single standards that become accepted throughout the world (for example, ISO 9000). Thus, not only will the ISO decisions on international standards influence U.S. standards development, they will have a huge impact on the increasing number of companies involved in the global market.

A path less traveled

The U.S. TAG is assuming much of what was the responsibility of the Healthcare Informatics Standards Board (HISB), which has been an influential and nonpartisan organization in bringing together government agencies, standards development organizations and industry leaders. Thoughts of a merger between the two organizations surfaced briefly, but HISB instead opted to move on to new challenges in uncharted waters. Under consideration are coordination of compliance issues in data content development, accreditation of healthcare security measures and analysis of the recently compiled administrative and clinical inventories.

But HISB is still in the planning stages. Definition is not expected until year end. Nonetheless, it intends to continue its work creating strategies for the adoption and implementation of standards and supporting a U.S. position through the TAG--and hopes more will join it there.

Because the ideas considered within the TAG become distilled into official opinions meant to represent U.S. healthcare interests, Waegemann seeks a wide cross section of members representing all facets of healthcare. The group is growing, but he wants a broader consensus. "We need many, many more participants," Waegemann says.

For U.S. TAG membership contact Peter Waegemann, http://www.medrecinst.com or ASTM, http://www.astm.org.

Charlene Marietti is senior technology writer at Healthcare Informatics.

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