ONC chief Karen DeSalvo: Time to change the culture of interoperability and health data sharing

There needs to be a better business case for sharing data because consumers expect it and HIPAA allows it, said National Coordinator Karen DeSalvo, MD. And Americans are growing increasingly impatient. 
ONC EHR interoperability health data sharing

National Coordinator Karen DeSalvo, MD, said now is the time to build on widespread EHR adoption. The healthcare industry, having reached near universal adoption of electronic health records, is at the beginning of a journey, she said, speaking at ONC's Annual Meeting on May 31.

That adoption rate DeSalvo referred to is nine times more than it was in 2008, before the passage of the HITECH Act that funded the meaningful use program, according to research ONC published on Tuesday.

"As a doctor, a daughter and a policymaker, I know that we need to see actionable, usable, electronic health information available when and where it matters to consumers and all of us who are users of that data," DeSalvo said. "And it is coming from so many sources today."

DeSalvo said the office is moving forward on what ONC Principal Deputy National Coordinator Vindell Washington, MD, laid out as the three C's: common standards, culture change and a case – as in a business case – for data to move.

Despite the progress that ONC is celebrating this week, DeSalvo acknowledged that ONC and its coalition of public-private partners still face substantive challenges in establishing a health ecosystem based on interoperable information, including privacy and cybersecurity, national standards, and creating a business case for information sharing.

"That blends into changing the culture of data sharing in this country," she explained. "For too long, and today, we think about data as something that we have to hold tightly onto; it is built into our DNA of medicine that we want to hold data and we're worried about exposing it."



Indeed, that is why the Department of Health and Human Services has an Office for Civil Rights to understand how medical information can be shared without violating HIPAA, DeSalvo said, adding that at this point consumers expect providers to be sharing health information on their behalf — and doing so to advance overarching initiatives such as precision medicine and population health.  

"Our chapter ahead is to bring it all together to make it usable and actionable for everybody that wants it," she said. "This is what I hear loudly and clearly everywhere I go, in every community where I have a listening session or visit a clinic or health center or hospital or scientific environment or public health agency.

"The people of this country are ready for electronic health information to be available when and where it matters to them," said DeSalvo. "They are impatient and they want the data to be free."

Twitter: @SullyHIT
Email the writer: tom.sullivan@himssmedia.com

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