On March 25, the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) for Health Information Technology launched a new website dubbed the "Planning Room"(planningroom.org) and officially invited the public -- including family physicians and their patients -- to go in and chat.
ONC planners are seeking public input regarding the ongoing development of the Federal Health IT Strategic Plan for 2011-2015(web.mediacdt.com), which outlines the government's goals and strategies to incorporate electronic health records into the U.S. health care system.
The ONC teamed up with researchers at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., to develop the Planning Room. The Cornell team moderates discussions on the site, and the ONC has vowed to consider all thoughts and suggestions before making revisions to the strategic plan.
The first subject open for discussion is "Empower Individuals Through Health IT to Improve Health and Health Care." The topic will be available for user comment until May 9. Visitors do not have to sign in to browse the site and read comments posted there, but registration is required for users who wish to participate in the discussion by posting comments.
The site includes a list of frequently asked questions and a one-minute video about the project.
According to Peter Ashkenaz, an ONC spokesperson, the agency issued its health IT strategic plan in 2011. "Ever since then, we've wanted to find a channel for public input that encouraged more interactive and informal public dialogue than existed in other formats," he told AAFP News Now.
Ashkenaz said the agency searched for a tool that would allow all stakeholders to focus on specific and timely issues and then provide the ONC "with more precise, detailed comments."
"We are expecting that the platform's ability to foster unique dialogue will help to inform updates to the health IT strategy," he added.
According to Ashkenaz, the ONC is encouraged by the level of traffic to the site and is pleased with the amount of public engagement so early in the public comment period. "In the first few days, 43 people registered on the site and made 59 comments," he said.