ONC Maps Out Plan to Improve Nation's Health IT

AAFP Applauds Focus on Interoperability

February 12, 2015 09:04 am News Staff
[Image of computer connection and businessman looking against red pixel spiral]

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) recently issued a draft "road map" for the nation's quest to deliver better health care through interoperable health information technology.

In a Jan. 30 press release(www.hhs.gov), HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell said the federal government was working hard to improve America's health care system and achieve a healthier population.

"Great progress has been made to digitize the care experience, and now it's time to free up this data so patients and providers can securely access their health information when and where they need it," said Burwell. "A successful learning system relies on an interoperable health IT system where information can be collected, shared and used to improve health, facilitate research and inform clinical outcomes."

The road map(www.healthit.gov) provides details on what to do over the next three years to get there, said Burwell.

Story Highlights
  • HHS recently issued a draft document intended to serve as the nation's health IT road map to interoperability.
  • The AAFP applauded the move and noted that interoperability of electronic health records has been an Academy priority for years.
  • Just days later, HHS announced it will offer $28 million in grants to help states, territories and state-designated entities work on interoperability issues that affect patient care.

The AAFP sounded the alarm about the lack of interoperability among electronic health record (EHR) systems several years ago and has continued to raise the issue with policymakers and government officials.

In a Jan. 30 statement about HHS' new plan, AAFP President Robert Wergin, M.D., of Milford, Neb., reiterated those concerns and applauded the ONC's call to action as outlined in the document titled Connecting Health and Care for the Nation: A Shared Nationwide Interoperability Road Map.

"The AAFP understands that removing roadblocks and eliminating isolated data silos are essential steps toward improving care quality, safety and efficiency," said Wergin in the statement. "That's why we support ongoing efforts aimed at creating and implementing technical standards for the secure, ubiquitous transfer of health data.

"The ONC road map establishes clear, distinct and upfront goals and a timetable for accomplishing this important exchange of information," he added.

For instance, the road map outlines 10 guiding principles of interoperability that call upon health IT vendors and policymakers to

HHS, ONC Announce $28 Million in Grants

Just days after HHS announced the release of a draft road map(www.healthit.gov) to guide the nation to interoperable health IT, HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell announced a $28 million funding opportunity(www.grants.gov) to help in that effort.

According to a Feb. 3 blog(www.healthit.gov) posted on the HHS web site, 10 to 12 grants will be awarded in the form of cooperative agreements to states, territories or state designated-entities.

Grantees will work with clinical and nonclinical health care personnel "in various settings across the entire care continuum to support a more comprehensive, integrated patient record or care plan," said blog authors.

The grant period runs for two years, with an estimated start date of June 2015. HHS will provide additional application information in coming weeks.

  • build on existing health IT infrastructure,
  • consider the current environment and support varying levels of expertise,
  • protect privacy and security,
  • maintain modularity so systems can evolve without being completely overhauled,
  • empower individuals,
  • leverage the market,
  • consider scalability and universal access,
  • recognize that one size does not fit all,
  • simplify products and protocols, and
  • focus on value.

In addition, the road map identifies four high priorities to help the nation achieve interoperability in the near term.

Authors urge public and private stakeholders to work to

  • establish a coordinated governance framework and process for nationwide health information interoperability;
  • improve technical standards and implementation guidance for the sharing and use of a common clinical data set that includes information such as patient name, gender, date of birth, health problems, medications, lab tests, procedures, immunizations and notes;
  • promote incentives to motivate physicians and other stakeholders to share health information according to common technical standards; and
  • clarify privacy and security requirements that enable interoperability.

In the HHS press release, national coordinator for health IT Karen DeSalvo, M.D., M.P.H., called for the public and private sectors to collaborate to "clearly define standards, motivate their use through clear incentives and establish trust in the health IT ecosystem through defining the rules of engagement."

The draft plan is available for public review, and the AAFP and other stakeholders have until April 3 to submit comments.