ONC: Time to 'double down' on putting patients first

By Mary Mosquera
01:12 PM
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Under the leadership of Dr. Farzad Mostashari, the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) for Health IT will “double down” on its efforts to smooth the path for healthcare providers in adopting electronic health records and to put the patient front and center in its programs and message.

It will also be more aware of an expected explosion of consumer e-health tools and products as a result of wider use of health IT by providers and the volume of electronic information that becomes available.

[Related: ONC’s draft Federal Health IT Plan: Realistic in a reasonable timeframe?]

These are not entirely new directions, but ONC will give them greater emphasis as providers start to do the complex work of establishing electronic health records (EHRs) and performing the measures to meet meaningful use, Mostashari said.

“We’re moving into a time of intense execution. I know from personal experience implementing electronic health records in small doctors’ offices in some underserved communities in New York and health centers and hospital outpatient partners just how incredibly hard this work is,” he said April 13 at his first meeting as national coordinator and chairman of the Health IT Policy Committee, a public/private advisory panel.

“We are going to need to execute and continually improve in terms of the implementation of our programs,” he added.

Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the Health and Human Services Department, named Mostashari the national coordinator April 8.

“The future is closer now than it was two years ago,” he said, referring to when Dr. David Blumenthal stepped into the national coordinator’s role in 2009.

ONC will increase its efforts to communicate better what its health IT plans mean for physicians, frontline staff, patients and consumers. ONC will also stress the importance of patients and their interests, which has been a driver for quality measures and privacy and security guidance. Technology is advancing so that there are opportunities for greater patient information protection, such as more granular implementation of patient preferences through metadata.

Mostashari anticipates “truly explosive and disruptive innovations” in the consumer health market because of the flood of electronic information. He cited tools for population health management, patient-provider communications, visualization of data, and improved decision-making.

[Related: Q&A: The good, bad, and otherwise of ACO regs. See also: Which EMR vendors are best for meaningful use?]

The meaningful use framework has offered a means to tap health IT to improve quality, efficiency, and to coordinate care. Now, programs from the health reform law, such as the recently published proposed rule for accountable care organizations (ACO), are rolling out and in combination with meaningful use are assisting in the transformation and availability of information in a way that Mostashari said is “unprecedented.” The ACO rule incorporates meaningful use of EHRs, health information exchange and sharing patient data to coordinate care.

“It’s an incredibly exciting time because finally the stars are aligned so that the information and what information technology can provide in the service of improved quality and safety is aligned with not just what providers and hospitals want to do every day, but that payment will enable them to be successful doing so,” he said.