National roadmap released for health IT interoperability

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The nation’s chief advocate for IT in health care has unveiled the final version of an “interoperability” roadmap to guide industry toward more user-friendly technology that can be easily integrated to help users.

Released by the Office of The National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, the plan establishes a timeline and milestones for making health information available to citizens securely on the Web. ONC first introduced a draft of the roadmap in January.

Interoperability, defined in the roadmap as “the ability of a system to exchange electronic health information with and use electronic health information from other systems without special effort on the part of the user,” is regarded as a critical next step for the health care industry, which has historically experienced difficulties transferring important medical information between different providers and the government, and making it accessible to patients.

“[I]nteroperability is necessary for a ‘learning health system’ in which health information flows seamlessly and is available to the right people, at the right place, at the right time,” Karen DeSalvo, national coordinator for health IT, said in a preface to the roadmap. “Public and private stakeholders will need to do more than just address our policies and technical approaches to achieve real, meaningful, seamless interoperability — we will need to change our culture.”

The 94-page report begins by celebrating the progress that industry has already made toward its health IT goals, part of which it attributes to the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act of 2009, known as HITECH. Bolstered by investment following HITECH, the industry has arrived at a point where “80 percent of hospitals can electronically query other organizations for health information,” according to the roadmap.

But 80 percent, the report goes on to say, is not enough: By 2024, ONC hopes to achieve “nationwide interoperability to enable a learning health system, with the person at the center of a system that can continuously improve care, public health, and science through real-time data access.”

It will accomplish this task by encouraging public-private cooperation and adhering to a comprehensive set of deadlines and milestones over the next nine years. By 2017, the roadmap indicates that industry should “send, receive, find and use priority data domains to improve health care quality and outcomes.” By 2020, the goal becomes to “expand data sources and users in the interoperable health IT ecosystem to improve health and lower costs.”

“We are committed to helping consumers easily and securely access their electronic health information when and where they need it most; to enabling individual health information to be shared with other providers and refrain from information blocking; and to implementing federally recognized, national interoperability standards and policies so that we are no longer competing between standards, but rather innovating on a set of core standards,” DeSalvo said. “We hope the private sector will join us in this pledge.”

Following the release of the roadmap, officials came out in its support.

“We have made important progress in making health records available to patients and shareable among their doctors,” Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said in a statement. “Today, we are taking another important step forward by releasing a comprehensive strategy to engage government partners and the private sector to develop a network where health information can be safely and securely accessed from different sources. This shift will put patients at the center of their health care, improve the quality of the services they receive and advance safety overall.”

Andy Slavitt, acting administrator at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, echoed Burwell’s thoughts on the importance of a path to interoperable health IT.

“As the Interoperability Roadmap makes clear, a patient’s information must follow them wherever they choose to get care and any efforts to block that from happening are unacceptable,” Slavitt said. “CMS believes that data and information are as important an ingredient as paying for value in keeping people healthy.”

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Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Departments, Health IT, Karen DeSalvo, ONC, Sylvia Burwell, Tech
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