The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology has renamed its proposed Health IT Safety Center, a public-private collaboration meant to help reduce potential HIT-related adverse events and medical errors.

ONC is now calling it a “Safety Collaboratory” rather than a safety center. Andrew Gettinger, M.D., ONC’s chief medical information officer and acting director of the Office of Clinical Quality and Safety, made the announcement during Tuesday’s HIT Policy Committee meeting. Gettinger told committee members that the term “collaboratory” was coined in 1989 by computer scientist William Wulf, referring to the concept of a “center without walls” in which the nation’s researchers could perform their research without regard to physical location.

“The key attribute and why we’re using it is that it explicitly doesn’t talk about bricks and mortar. And, that’s going to be a theme that’s very important,” he said. “We’re imagining that the Safety Collaboratory will be housed within a host organization that’s already involved in the field of health IT safety.” 

Regardless of what ONC calls it, it’s likely that Congress will continue to refuse to fund the initiative. ONC’s concept for the center has come under fire from congressional Republicans who argue that the agency has overstepped its legal authority. As a result, lawmakers have so far refused to authorize $5 million in funding to initially establish the center, which the Department of Health and Human Services requested in both its fiscal year 2015 and 2016 budget requests.

Also See: Lack of Funds from Congress Leaves Health IT Safety Center in Limbo

With the new name, ONC’s concept for the Safety Collaboratory continues to evolve, in part, in an effort to reassure Congress that the scope of the initiative is well within its statutory authority. Toward that end, Gettinger in his presentation to the HIT Policy Committee laid out a number of limitations for the collaboratory, namely that it:

*Will not engage in direct investigation or surveillance,

*Will not include operating or funding the operations of a Patient Safety Organization,

*Will not include direct data collection,

*Will not include perform functions of Federal Advisory Committees, and

*Will not include activities that are exclusively the responsibility of Federal entities, and, therefore, cannot be delegated to outside parties, such as the exercise of regulatory authority, establishing government programs, and decision making related to Federal budget expenditures and priorities.

In April 2014, as part of the draft FDASIA Report to Congress, ONC joined with the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Communications Commission in calling for the development of a Health IT Safety Center. Last month, ONC released a roadmap defining the focus, functions, and governance of the center, envisioned as a “trusted convenor of public and private stakeholders to create a learning health system for health IT and patient safety” with a price tag of $17.8 -$20.6 million over five years.

“None of this will go forward absent congressional funding—and, perhaps additional authority, if Congress sees fit for that,” said Gettinger, who added that ultimately the Safety Collaboratory is anticipated to be a “self-sustaining entity and will not require long-term federal funding.”

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