NIST has a long history of advancing standards and the use of technology in the United States – two key factors driving the adoption of health IT in today's healthcare arena. NIST supports health IT standards development and facilitates interoperability through its standards and testing research initiatives. These activities focus on both the refinement of current industry standards and development of standards needed for the future, such as those that will shape emerging healthcare technologies. NIST research efforts contribute to the documentary standards necessary to achieve the vision of an interoperable health IT network that will help improve healthcare quality.
To accelerate health IT standards, NIST provides technical expertise and leverages industry-led, consensus-based standards development and harmonization efforts. NIST plays a critical role providing expertise to ensure that the standards are further constrained and defined through detailed implementation guidelines. NIST participates early in the standards development process and helps ensure that the requisite infrastructural standards (such as clinical information exchange, security, and usability) are complete and unambiguous. To achieve all of these objectives, NIST collaborates with standard development organizations, such as Health Level Seven (HL7), IEEE, and Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise (IHE), and engages with other federal agencies that have responsibility for health IT standards and technologies.
NIST testing activities focus on reducing the cost to develop health IT systems by providing developers with an innovative, flexible, and virtual test bed to confirm that their systems can exchange clinical information with other systems. Without testing, it is impossible to know if a standard is implemented correctly. During the standards development and harmonization process, appropriate testing tools and procedures can determine and provide feedback on standard ambiguities and gaps. These testing tools assist in guiding the content of complete, user-friendly implementation guidelines.
As defined in the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, NIST is collaborating with industry to ensure that a health IT standards testing infrastructure is created. The testing infrastructure is modular by design and implementation. Therefore, as future standards are needed, appropriate testing tools can be developed, using the same infrastructure.
As an extension of the NIST testing activities, NIST has developed the test method for meaningful use Stage 1.