Health IT roadmap sets aggressive goal for data interoperability

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The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology’s long-awaited nationwide interoperability roadmap, released Friday, lays out ONC’s vision to deliver nationwide health data sharing.

The 166-page “Connecting Health and Care for the Nation: A Shared Nationwide Interoperability Roadmap” aims for “a majority of individuals and providers across the care continuum to send, receive, find and use a common set of electronic clinical information at the nationwide level by the end of 2017,” the report states.

To get there, the roadmap introduces guiding principles the public and private sectors must observe for interoperability and accompanies an interoperability standards advisory, which will annually identify the best available industry standards to allow data to interact.

Dr. Karen DeSalvo, ONC’s national coordinator, pointed to three broad areas of importance in the report: standardizing, motivating people to use the standards, and creating an environment of comfort through privacy and security.

“The time has come for us to be more explicit about standards,” DeSalvo said in a call with reporters. That’s where the accompanying standards advisory comes in to play, familiarizing important players in the health IT interoperability world with the best in practice standards to use and working toward semantic interoperability. It will also help federal agencies while developing and procuring new health IT systems.

But you have to motivate those people to actually use the standards, DeSalvo said.

“We have worked out what we consider to be a strong set of incentives and motivators that we can bring to the table as the federal government,” she said. Those incentives, DeSalvo said, will run “in addition to programs like certification and meaningful use, also the payment programs through [the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] and grant programs in partnership with [the Department of Veterans Affairs] and the [Defense Department].”

On the consumer side, ONC wants to build a foundation of trust, which means privacy and security are paramount to this roadmap.

“Collecting data and seeing that people are motivated to use it is all great, but we want to make sure that it’s being done in a fashion that gives trust and comfort to the American people and to the provider and others,” DeSalvo said.

Those are just the broad-level goals. But hoping to make the national health IT system interoperable at the lowest level, DeSalvo said the document delves into “a fair amount of specificity.”

Erica Galvez, the interoperability and exchange portfolio manager, spoke similarly of interoperability, saying “the devil is in the details,” which is why the roadmap goes to such great lengths to account for as many aspects of interoperability — from harmonizing information-sharing and curating APIs nationwide governance — as possible in this first public draft.

In the near term, Galvez said, “the goal we have set for the next three years is focused very specifically on making sure that the majority of care providers across the broad care continuum and individuals … reach a place where they electronically send, receive, find and use a specific set of critical health information.”

Of course, the roadmap is a living document, and ONC is accepting public comments until April 3.

“We believe that by going forward together and holding each other accountable that we’re really going to get to a place where we have the information necessary to see that we have better care, that we can have smarter spending and healthier people in the country,” DeSalvo said.

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Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Departments, Health data, Health IT, Karen DeSalvo, ONC, Tech
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