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ONC Interoperability Roadmap Targets Learning Health System

By Sara Heath

Better care coordination, quality care, lowered costs, and healthy and engaged patients are the long-time goals ofthe push for health IT interoperability. In its publication of the Health IT Interoperability Roadmap, the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS’s) Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) has spelled out its action plan for achieving those aims.

The roadmap, which was released on October 6, explains the ONC plan for achieving interoperability across the entire healthcare industry over the next decade. Through a series of initiatives across multiple two- to three-year spans, ONC has charted a course toward a learning health system.

Between 2015 and 2017, the ONC plans to increase sending, receiving, obtaining, and using health data across interoperable health IT systems. According to the federal agency, this should improve healthcare delivery via care quality and patient outcomes.

According to ONC, this first step is the highest priority because it sets a solid foundation upon which the rest of the roadmap builds. As such, the federal agency has identified four key methods toward achieving that goal.

  • Improve technical standards and implementation guidance for priority data domains and associated elements. In the near-term, the Roadmap focuses on using commonly available standards, while pushing for greater implementation consistency and innovation associated with new standards and technology approaches, such as the use of APIs.

  • Rapidly shift and align federal, state, and commercial payment policies from fee-for-service to value-based models to stimulate the demand for interoperability.

  • Clarify and align federal and state privacy and security requirements that enable interoperability.

  • Coordinate among stakeholders to promote and align consistent policies and business practices that support interoperability and address those that impede interoperability.

Between 2018 and 2020, the ONC hopes to increase the number of clinical data sources and users in interoperable systems. This should also help improve healthcare delivery and presumably lower costs.

The final step of the ONC roadmap is scheduled to take place between 2021 and 2024. This is expected to improve the overall healthcare ecosystem by improving care, public health, and healthcare research via real-time access to health data.

According to ONC, achieving widespread interoperability is the means of putting in place an overall more functional healthcare industry wherein providers need to be able to access all necessary patient information in order to provide accurate, timely, and cost-effective care. Additionally, ONC envisions nationwide interoperability helping to create an overarching picture of an individual’s health rather than individual episodes of care.

Achieving nationwide interoperability will also enable researchers to develop more accurate and effective treatments, improving population health. By successfully gathering more specific and complete datasets, researchers should be able to improve population health management problems.

According ONC officials, the roadmap is intended to be a work in progress and is flexible to revisions as the push for interoperability continues and evolves.

“The Roadmap is intended to be a living document,” explained National Coordinator Karen B. DeSalvo, MD, MPH, MSc, in an ONC post. “As we progress on this journey, future versions of the Roadmap will continue to be informed by public and private sector stakeholder feedback and will be updated as milestones are met and new challenges emerge.”




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