Federal Health IT Strategy

AAFP to ONC: Ease Burdens, Address Standing Goals

January 19, 2015 03:36 pm News Staff

The federal government's strategic plan for the future of health information technology encompasses worthy goals, but it also should seek to ease the administrative burden physicians face and build on goals set a decade ago, the AAFP wrote in response to a public request for comments on the draft plan by the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) for Health IT.

[Die-cut letters being placed to form the word

The ONC's 28-page "Federal Health IT Strategic Plan 2015-2020,"(www.healthit.gov) released in December, outlines the federal health IT working plan for the next five years. It describes a strategy to collect, share and use health information digitally.

The plan outlines five goals:

  • expanding health IT adoption,
  • advancing secure, interoperable health IT,
  • strengthening health care delivery,
  • advancing the health and well-being of individuals and communities, and
  • advancing research, scientific knowledge and innovation.

AAFP Board Chair Reid Blackwelder, M.D., of Kingsport, Tenn., sent the AAFP's response to the plan in a Jan. 15 letter(2 page PDF) to ONC head Karen DeSalvo, M.D., M.P.H. Blackwelder recognized the federal government's efforts and supported its mission to improve health and health care and to reduce costs through the use of health IT.

"This strategic plan provides a blueprint to move forward, and we must now define and implement its tactics," said Blackwelder

Story Highlights
  • The AAFP recently responded to a request for comment from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology regarding its draft proposal for a five-year strategic plan.
  • The plan outlines goals for collecting, sharing and using health IT.
  • AAFP Board Chair Reid Blackwelder, M.D., praised the agency for its work, but urged greater focus on population health management, care coordination and patient engagement.

He called coordination across multiple federal agencies -- as outlined in the plan -- useful and appropriate, but said it presented a dilemma for practicing physicians.

"From the perspective of a practice, the myriad of regulations and rules from multiple agencies places a heavy administrative burden (on physicians)," said Blackwelder. "As efforts across agencies can be harmonized and, where possible, combined, it could significantly decrease this burden on practices."

He urged a "continued focus on value" and suggested that could mean simplifying regulations and eliminating waste.

Blackwelder pointed out that the ONC's goals of collecting and sharing health information were "indistinguishable" from the goals and objectives that were to have been achieved during the previous decade.

"We are concerned that work has not been done to determine why these goals have not been achieved during the past 10 or more years and how the tactics and activities of the next 10 years will be different," Blackwelder said.

He also expressed concern that the government's strategic plan had not acknowledged important successes in health IT.

"We have seen significant increases in provider adoption of health IT, and we are beginning to see a robust network of secure, interoperable exchange," said Blackwelder. He referred, among other things, to health IT accreditation programs and the 2010 launch of the government's DIRECT project(www.healthit.gov) to enable secure digital transmission of encrypted health information.

"We are concerned about the apparent absence of any short-term (one- to three-year) goals to continue the momentum of these successes," said Blackwelder.

He said the AAFP has its own health IT strategic plan for the next 10 years and noted that interoperability and usability were "top of mind" for family physicians.

The Academy, Blackwelder noted, also is focused on the broader "triple aim" in health care -- improving population health, enhancing the patient experience and controlling health care costs.

"Given the breadth and depth of the work that could be initiated around health IT, we are concerned that resources may be spread so thin that no significant achievements are made toward the goals laid out in the Federal Health IT Strategic Plan," said Blackwelder.

He encouraged the ONC to focus on the key capabilities health care organizations and physicians really need to move forward and specifically named population health management, care coordination and patient engagement as issues worthy of ONC's immediate attention.

Related AAFP News Coverage
Q&A With Steven Waldren, M.D.
Quest for EHR Usability, Interoperability Fuels AAFP's Technology Team


More From AAFP
Health Information Technology: Interoperability