Health care providers’ ability to obtain information on a patient’s health, health care, and potential treatments quickly and to share this information in a timely manner with other providers caring for the patient is essential to effective and coordinated care. To that end, major public- and private-sector collaborations are under way to develop the essential components of a National Health Information Infrastructure (NHII). However, M/SU health care currently is not well addressed by NHII initiatives, nor are NHII initiatives well incorporated into other public-sector information technology efforts for M/SU health care. M/SU health care also lags behind general health care in its use of information technology. To realize the potential of the NHII for consumers of M/SU health care, the committee makes the following recommendations:

Recommendation 6-1. To realize the benefits of the emerging National Health Information Infrastructure (NHII) for consumers of M/SU health care services, the secretaries of DHHS and the Department of Veterans Affairs should charge the Office of the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to jointly develop and implement a plan for ensuring that the various components of the emerging NHII—including data and privacy standards, electronic health records, and community and regional health networks—address M/SU health care as fully as general health care. As part of this strategy:

  • DHHS should create and support a continuing mechanism to engage M/SU health care stakeholders in the public and private sectors in developing consensus-based recommendations for the data elements, standards, and processes needed to address unique aspects of information management related to M/SU health care. These recommendations should be provided to the appropriate standards-setting entities and initiatives working with the Office of the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology.

  • Federal grants and contracts for the development of components of the NHII should require and use as a criterion for making awards the involvement and inclusion of M/SU health care.

  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration should increase its work with public and private stakeholders to support the building of information infrastructure components that address M/SU health care and coordinate these information initiatives with the NHII.

  • Policies and information technology infrastructure should be used to create linkages (consistent with all privacy requirements) among patient records and other data sources pertaining to M/SU ser-

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