Electronic Health Records

Adoption & Implementation News

How Does ONC Plan to Expand Health Information Exchange?

By Vera Gruessner

- With the vast amounts of data collected in the healthcare industry, providers, vendors, and other stakeholders are putting more focus into developing health information exchange (HIE) and greater EHR interoperability. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) released a report to Congress – Update on the Adoption of Health Information Technology and Related Efforts to Facilitate the Electronic Use and Exchange of Health Information – to offer policy guidance on the best ways for optimizing health IT systems and supporting HIEs.

ONC

Ever since the federal government passed the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, the number of hospitals and physician practices adopting EHR systems has grown substantially. Currently, more than half of hospitals have at least a basic EHR system in place while, in 2013, 48 percent of physicians had EHRs at their practice.

Additionally, eligible professionals and eligible hospitals across the country are participating in the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs. While there has been significant progress in implementing health IT, there are still barriers that are halting widespread health information exchange across healthcare organizations and vendor products.

For example, if an individual from Maine takes a vacation in Florida and experiences a patient encounter, their primary care provider from Maine would likely not be informed nor would be able to access the patient’s emergency care data.

The report states that some of the common barriers to EHR adoption and thereby challenges for expanding health information exchange include the cost of purchasing a system, loss of productivity, training difficulties, the costs of annual maintenance, and obstacles related to finding an EHR system that supports practice needs. Nonetheless, in 2013, eight in ten physicians were using an EHR system or planning to adopt one, according to an ONC data brief.

ONC explains in its report that some of the reasons health information exchange is lacking is due to inconsistent structure, format, and even medical vocabulary used across different EHR systems and vendor products. ONC outlines key actions the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will need to take to improve nationwide EHR interoperability. These actions include:

  1. Creating new standards that are integral to the development of a connected healthcare system
  2. Requiring more staff in the health IT workforce to support the implementation of electronic records
  3. Improving the sharing of data among providers and public health agencies
  4. Collaborating, advising, and sharing studies with states, communities, and providers to stimulate IT solutions in the healthcare field
  5. Driving patient engagement with their health information

ONC hopes that Stage 2 Meaningful Use requirements will also catalyze a widespread data exchange network within the healthcare sector. By using these five strategies, HHS plans to further advance health information exchange and invest in health IT usability throughout the nation.

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