Interoperability top focus of ONC strategic plan

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information technology (ONC) on Monday released the Federal Health IT Strategic Plan 2015-2020 with a definitive focus on interoperability. The agency reported that more than 35 federal agencies participated in drafting the plan. “The plan has a broad perspective, including purchasers, regulators, users, agencies that set health IT policy and ensure pay for care, and federal agencies that focus on community health, funding health and human services, and supporting research,” said Seth Pazinski, director of planning, evaluation and analysis at the ONC.

The Federal Health IT Strategic Plan represents a coordinated and focused effort to appropriately collect, share, and use interoperable health information to improve health care, individual, community and public health, and advance research across the federal government and in collaboration with private industry. Currently open for comments, the plan serves as the broad federal strategy setting the context and framing the Nationwide Interoperability Roadmap that will be released in early 2015. 

“The 2015 Strategic Plan provides the federal government a strategy to move beyond health care to improve health, use health IT beyond EHRs, and use policy and incentive levers beyond the incentive programs,” said Karen DeSalvo, M.D., national coordinator for health IT and acting assistant secretary for health. “The success of this plan is also dependent upon insights from public and private stakeholders and we encourage their comments.”

Representatives of the ONC, such as Erica Galvez, Interoperability Portfolio Manager, recently presented early draft material on the ONC's Nationwide Interoperability Roadmap at the RSNA Annual Meeting last week, enphasizing that as an ecosystem, we need to build interoperability progressively on the foundations that have been laid thus far. Interoperability is challenging, said Galvez, and it will take time and cooperation, while keeping in mind three majors aims to improve healthcare quality, decrease healthcare costs, and to improve the health of the population. The Nationwide Interoperability Roadmap is intended to help to define the implementation of how the federal government and private sector will approach sharing health information.

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"We cast interoperability in a very broad context around health and supporting health," Galvez said at RSNA. "Much of our work historically has focused very tightly on the care delivery system, but the reality is, a lot if information, particularly when it's digital, and it's interoperable, can support decision making that impacts health beyond the care delivery system, so we need to be thinking about how care providers and patients use information when they encounter the care delivery system, but we really also need to be thinking about how that information can and should be used behond the care delivery system."

In terms of timing, Galvez claimed that interoperability can't be turned on with a switch, yet offered a big picture glimpse of what it might look like and what it will take to get there. "Progress toward the interoperability vision will have to be incremental. We want to create opportunities for innovation as well as empower individuals. We are not just talking about empowering individuals to have access to their health information, but for them to actively contribute and manage their own health information. This doesn't happen often today and It will take a significant pivot in our culture as well as our technical tools."

The public has until Feb. 6, 2015 to comment on the draft strategic plan. A final plan will be released sometime next year.