HIGPA: Winds of change moving healthcare eStandards

By Curtis Rooney

All around us are signs of change! Politicians are talking about it. The electorate demands it. And, when it comes to healthcare electronic standards, the winds of change have picked up and are driving improvements in the efficiency and safety of the healthcare supply chain.

For example, effective July 1, 2008, the Coalition for Healthcare eStandards (CHeS) became a committee of the Health Industry Group Purchasing Association (HIGPA). Although CHeS will retain its familiar acronym, it changed its full name to the Committee for Healthcare eStandards to reflect its new status. It will also continue to provide a unified voice on healthcare standards for the GPO industry. The result is that HIGPA will be able to leverage and advance the progress already made by CHeS and ensure that GPOs have the tools they need to implement healthcare standards with their hospital members and customers. GPOs will now be better suited to move more quickly toward the goal of accelerating the implementation of standards needed to increase efficiencies, reduce costs and improve patient safety.

Prior to CHeS becoming a committee, the HIGPA board voted to endorse GS1 standards. Not long thereafter, both Premier and Amerinet announced that they too were endorsing GS1 standards and implementing these requirements through purchasing contracts with vendors over the course of the next several years. For manufacturers selling in the retail market, these changes shouldn’t be much of a shock, because they are more likely than not to have already been using GS1 standards for some time.

Many GPOs believe that these standards will:

  • Facilitate easier identification of medical products and devices.
  • Allow their members and customers to track items through the healthcare system by having them within a standardized product database.
  • Allow providers to quickly communicate with vendors on items of concern.

So don’t be surprised if you see even more GPOs implement these standards in a similar manner in the near future. They’ll do this because they think it is the right thing to do. They’ll also move quickly in this direction because many of their bigger members and customer hospitals have already asked suppliers to implement GS1 standards.

Other signs of change include the recent publication and dissemination of the “Healthcare Provider Tool Kit” by the Association for Healthcare Resource & Materials Management and GS1 Healthcare. The purpose of this impressive “Tool Kit” is to further drive home the need to adopt standards and provide the specific steps needed to implement the process. The “Tool Kit” also provides examples of “best practices” and “frequently asked questions” regarding the Global Location Number (GLN), Global Trade Item Number (GTIN), Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN) and the United Nations Standard Products and Services Code® (UNSPSC). In addition, the U.S. Department of Defense continues to grow its important pilot program, which is implementing GS1 standards and has steadily expanded the number of suppliers it includes in this work.

Finally, last year, Congress passed Food and Drug Administration legislation mandating a unique identifier for specific healthcare items. Many assume that the FDA will issue regulations on this matter after the fall elections. It remains to be seen whether the FDA regulations will single out GS1 standards or some other set of standards, or will allow for more than one set of standards. But it seems clear that the forecast for the future of healthcare standards is more change.

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