Interoperability tops ONC's future plans, draft outline shows

The report from the agency's Health Information Technology Advisory Committee shows that patient engagement and cybersecurity will also be big parts of its agenda going forward.
By Diana Manos
02:11 PM

A new update on a FY18 annual report from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT offers a glimpse as to what the agency hopes to achieve in the next few years – namely, interoperability; privacy and security; and patient access to their health records.

ONC’s Health Information Technology Advisory Committee released its annual report workgroup update on Feb. 20, with the progress being made on a final report it expects to deliver to HHS and Congress sometime this spring.

The update gives a draft outline of the final report, which shows HITAC’s priority target areas – as mandated under the 21st Century Cures Act.

WHY IT MATTERS

The update notes the report will include the progress HITAC has made in fiscal year 2018, along with health IT infrastructure landscape analysis and health IT infrastructure gap analysis and recommendations for addressing those gaps.

HITAC says interoperability remains fragmented and uneven, though HHS has proposed regulations and a trusted exchange framework.

ONC’s draft of the Trusted Exchange Framework, and Common Agreement, published Jan. 5, 2018, outlined how to exchange data and lays out a common set of principles and basic table stakes for trusted exchange and data flow among disparate networks. A final rule, expected at the end of last year, is still not out.

The committee also says that ONC has work underway to identify the priority uses of health IT and the associated standards and implementation specifications they will require, but privacy and security is also needed to advance and maintain trust in interoperability and to protect patients.

THE LARGER TREND

Similar frustrations were expressed earlier this year in a Jan. 11 report to Congress. In it, ONC said that EHR adoption is widespread, but larger health IT progress is still limited.

The ONC "Annual Update on the Adoption of a Nationwide System for the Electronic Use and Exchange of Health Information," found that despite HIPAA, patients still lack the ability to access health data and that makes it harder to manage their health and shop around for medical care.

Providers also lack access to patient data at the point of care, particularly true when patients see multiple doctors, ONC said. And payers often lack access to clinical data about populations of covered individuals.

As frustrations mount stakeholders are calling for a more concerted public-private effort to achieve interoperability. There's been too much talk and too little cooperative action on interoperability, said healthcare leaders during two panel discussions jointly hosted by the Healthcare Leadership Council and Bipartisan Policy Center Feb. 14 at HIMSS19, in Orlando.

The time has come to tackle it once and for all, the experts said, and that will demand aligned incentives, public-private collaboration – and a spirit of compromise from providers, payers vendors and others, we reported.

Diana Manos is a Washington, D.C.-area freelance writer specializing in healthcare, wellness and technology. 

Twitter: @Diana_Manos
Email the writer: dnewsprovider@gmail.com