Health IT

Government maps health IT goals through 2020

Shutterstock image: health factors.

The Office of the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology is evolving its mission to focus more on the interoperability of health data, and the use of health IT to improve patient outcomes, according to a newly released strategic plan that will guide agency efforts through 2020.

The ONC, based in the headquarters of the Department of Health and Human Services, led the push to get American hospitals and medical practices to adopt electronic health records by distributing more than $25 billion in subsidies authorized by the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, a part of the economic stimulus legislation. As a result of the effort, more than 95 percent of hospitals and 75 percent of practitioners have adopted some form of electronic health record, according to ONC data.

Authority to fund the payments has expired, however, and ONC is shrinking somewhat -- refocusing on using the levers of government payers to improve adoption, encouraging use of EHRs, and continuing efforts to work with industry to achieve interoperability among systems.

Long term, the ONC hopes to advance the way health information is understood, tagged and transported across systems, through a common health data dictionary, identifiers for devices that are collecting and delivering information, and the development of a health IT ecosystem that supports common application development. The ONC hopes to "encourage the adoption and use of prioritized sets of common standards through health IT certification, federal regulations and programs, and research funding mechanisms," the document states. This set of goals, along with the Nationwide Interoperability Roadmap that is currently being developed, are designed to guide industry and other stakeholders in ongoing efforts to define and implement standards for interoperability.

The plan also looks to involve patients in the creation of health data via personal devices, to secure and protect health data as it moves across systems, and to use health data to improve care that is delivered to patients and to provide the raw materials for public health research.

“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, the National Coordinator for Health IT.

ONC itself has been in flux of late. DeSalvo was tasked with a leadership role in the domestic public health response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and is dividing her time between the post of Acting Assistant Secretary of Health and her ONC role. Jacob Reider, formerly Deputy National Coordinator, departed the agency in November. Lisa Lewis, the chief operating officer at ONC, is running day-to-day operations.

The agency is seeking comments on the plan, which will be finalized early next year.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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