Electronic Health Records

Integration & Interoperability News

Final Federal HIT Strategy Plan for Learning Health System

By Kyle Murphy, PhD

- The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology has released the final version of the Federal Health IT Strategic Plan that aims at a learning health system (i.e., interoperable and accessible) within ten years.

Health IT interoperability is at the center of the ONC Federal Health IT Strategic Plan

"This Plan aims to remain flexible to evolving definitions of health, health care, and the technology developments that support them," National Coordinator Karen DeSalvo, MD, MPH, MSc, writes. "We recognize that both clinical health care and other sources will generate valuable health information. Expectations for our information systems and for their users will increase."

While the plan has evolved since its initial draft, its four goals remain the same: advancing person-centered and self-managed health; transforming healthcare delivery and community health; fostering research, scientific knowledge, and innovation; and enhancing the nation's health IT infrastructure.

Additionally, the plan contains goals at three-, six- and ten-year marks. Between 2015 and 2017, the focus remains on health information exchange, particularly the sending and receiving of a "common clinical data set." After six years, the goal is to have expanded health IT interoperability and end-users to improve health outcomes and reduce cost. In ten years, the ultimate goal is achieving a learning health system.

What has changed?

In the Federal Health IT Strategic Plan, ONC makes clear that the plan has evolved to emphasize use cases rather than general terms:

While continuing to expand health IT adoption, this revised Plan focuses primarily on how systems and individuals, organizations, and communities will use the information that flows through them. The Plan revision has an expanded narrative to show the interdependencies of the various goals, objectives, and strategies: the federal government will pursue strategies that aim to accomplish many interrelated objectives, rather than seeking progress in one area before addressing others.

As a result, the focus is specificity in laying out strategies and methods for reporting on progress. "The Plan’s strategies and outcomes show how the federal government’s actions will firmly establish the supporting health IT infrastructure necessary for expanding the use of interoperable electronic health information to improve health and wellness," the report reads.

What others are saying

By and large, the finalized Federal Health IT Strategic Plan is enjoying the support of industry groups as a result of its focus on patient-centered health.

On Monday, the National Partnership for Women & Families applauded ONC and its plan

"By laying out the vision, goals and collective efforts that federal agencies will pursue over the next five years in concert with public and private organizations, the Strategic Plan will help sustain momentum in advancing patient access to tools that can help them understand and manage their care, communicate effectively with providers, and participate in efforts to enhance coordination of care across settings and providers," President Debra L. Ness said in a public statement.

Others such as the Premier alliance and College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) were likewise supportive of the finalized plan although each raised concerns about health interoperability.

After praising the plan for supporting consumer access and quality reporting automation, the former addressed the urgency of advancing health IT interoperability.

"Last, we believe it is critical that the ONC fast track work to finalize interoperability standards necessary for capturing and exchanging information across IT platforms," Premier Senior Vice President of Public Affairs Blair Childs maintained. "In many respects, these standards are the essential foundation for every strategic goal outlined in the plan."

Similarly, CHIME President & CEO Russell Branzell and CHIME Board Chair Charles Christian reiterated the importance of making health IT interoperability a top priority:

ONC, in its draft Shared Nationwide Interoperability Roadmap, laid out a 10-year agenda for achieving an interoperable system. This should be a priority for all stakeholders. We cannot achieve the promise of population health and other advances in patient care without the ability to fully and securely exchange data. This includes not just data between providers, but also establishing a framework for accepting the growth in patient-generated data.

The organization likewise shone a light on the need for patient identification and improvements to clinical quality measures as welcomed additions to the nationwide plan.

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