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HIMSS: Interoperability Standards Advisory Needs More Detail

"We feel that this effort will provide the necessary foundation for more rapidly advancing interoperability in our country.”

By Sara Heath

After releasing its draft for the 2016 Interoperability Standards Advisory, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) sought public comment to make revisions.

health IT EHR interoperability

Earlier this week, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) submitted its comments to the ONC, stating that while it agrees with many of the updates for 2016, the agency still needs to clarify a few aspects of the document.

In a letter signed by HIMSS CAE president and CEO H. Stephen Lieber and HIMSS Chair Dana Alexander,  RN, MSN, MBA, FAAN, FHIMSS, the agency explains that the ONC needs to adjust its definitions for interoperability maturity levels, explaining that they are a multi-dimensional issue that needs increased clarification.

While HIMSS was reportedly happy to see maturity levels included in the draft advisory, it believes that the ONC still has work to do on that section.

“HIMSS would like to emphasize, however, that standards maturity is not a two-dimensional concept (in the case of the Interoperability Standards Advisory, either “draft” or “final”). There could be risks in trying to reduce it to such that could overly simplify a complex or nuanced topic,” wrote Alexander and Lieber.

To specify maturity levels and highlight important nuances, the ONC should re-examine three questions, put forward by the signatories:

  1. Is the proposed standard being developed to advance new technologies?

  2. Is the proposed standard a competing standard for an existing standard that is currently adopted?

  3. Is the proposed standard an update of an existing standard that has achieved broad adoption?

HIMSS also expresses appreciation for the six additional best characteristics that have been included in the advisory. However, the organization suggests the ONC include more detailed and effective measures protocols to allow for assessment of interoperability progress with regard to these six characteristics.

“ONC should consider articulating success criteria and metrics for measuring the impact of the ISA on interoperability to include outlining a process for measuring interoperability improvement or identifying a percentage rate for measuring the adoption level characteristic,” Alexander and Lieber wrote.

The Interoperability Standards Advisory is intended to be the ONC’s attempt to identify and assess best practices for increasing interoperability nationwide. Concentrating on clinical health IT interoperability, the 2016 draft advisory generally makes improvements on the 2015 advisory.

Most notably, the ONC made changes to the way in which the advisories are organized, adjusting the overall structure for the 2016 edition of the advisory. Changes to the draft advisory include established interoperability needs, six new informative characteristics for each standard, two subsections associated with each listed interoperability need, a health IT security sources appendix, and a revision history.

HIMSS stated that it hopes its comments, and the comments from other industry stakeholders, will help accelerate interoperability efforts.

“[W]e look forward to continuing our dialogue with ONC on identifying, assessing, and determining the best available interoperability standards and implementation specifications in the final Standards Advisory release for 2016. We feel that this effort will provide the necessary foundation for more rapidly advancing interoperability in our country,” the pair wrote.

HIMSS also reiterated a prevailing commitment to improving interoperability and health IT into the future, expressing that they hope to continue to partner with other industry stakeholders toward the same cause.

“HIMSS is committed to supporting and educating all stakeholders to achieve interoperability leading to information exchange that improves the quality and cost effectiveness of healthcare delivery,” wrote Alexander and Lieber. “We will continue to leverage our resources and our diverse membership to ensure all individuals and communities have access to the tools necessary to share health information in a secure and appropriate manner.”

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