ONC pushing hard on interoperability in last days of Obama administration

National Coordinator Vindell Washington said unlocking health data is the mission and he showed off FHIR-based technologies doing exactly that. 
By Jonah Comstock
03:07 PM
ONC interoperability FHIR

Vindell Washington, MD, is aiming to do as much as he possibly can as National Coordinator to advance interoperability and eradicate EHR data blocking before the new Presidential administration steps in.

Washington, the top official at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, spoke at the Connected Health Conference in the morning and then in the afternoon held a session to show off a demonstration of the FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources) protocol in action.

During his keynote speech, Washington highlighted how much ONC has accomplished during the Obama administration, citing the near-universal implementation of electronic health records.

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But he also cautioned those present not to get complacent as that administration enters its final days.

“Rarely in our history has this much changed so quickly,” he said. “It’s great now that EHRs are the normal course of business, but let’s go beyond the normal course of business. If there’s one thing I want you to remember, it’s that our mission, today, tomorrow, and into the future, is to unlock health data and to put it to use for the benefit of patients and their families.”

To that end, in his afternoon session with Epic, Allscripts, and Cerner, startups Medisafe, RxRevu, and CareEvolution all showed off their own FHIR-based apps that pulled data from EHRs to deliver an updating, de-duplicated medication list to a patient. The demonstrations were the culmination of a project begun at the HIMSS Annual Conference in February.

“At the HIMSS conference, [HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell] brought together many of the partners you’ll see on the stage and they made this pledge, or this voluntary agreement to share information,” Washington said. “There were a lot of stakeholder groups including provider organizations that they would engage in this. And one of the key aspects of this was the patient would be empowered to take that information and send it where it was needed for care for their own use. … The concept is you empower patients to get an interoperable list of their medications across a number of different sites where that information might be held. We felt that was one of the better focus areas that would allow us to address a missing piece in the process.”

Medisafe, RxRevu and CareEvolution each demonstrated their apps with the same fictional patient, "Mary", an elderly woman taking a number of medications and supplements. Different platforms allowed her to not just access an updated, de-duplicated medication list, but to pull it into the company’s own apps and share it with a family member or incorporate it into an adherence platform.

“The one specific thing I want to underscore is the idea that Mary has a choice in this activity,” Washington said. “We are trying to facilitate a world and a platform on which others can build and in which innovation can occur.”

Washington told MobiHealthNews after the show that he believes the apps demonstrated are very close to being out in the world — a requirement of the demo was that it involve real technology and real connections to the EHRs.

“I think the real value proposition comes when we can propagate this in a relatively large swath,” he said. “Part of that is having the real data, something that will push and prick the demand.” 


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