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ONC Working with Health IT Innovators to Improve Interoperability

ONC is encouraging health IT innovators to develop APIs that improve interoperability and health data access.

ONC is encouraging innovators to develop APIs improving interoperability.

Source: Thinkstock

By Kate Monica

- ONC is currently working with health IT innovators to spur the development of application programming interfaces (APIS) that improve interoperability and patient health data access, according to a recent Health IT Buzz blog post by National Coordinator for Health Information Technology Don Rucker, MD.

“As part of ONC’s role in coordinating health information technology (health IT) nationally, we are working with innovators to develop modern APIs that support the use of mobile apps to help individuals manage their own health or the health and care of a loved one,” Rucker wrote.

“A robust health app ecosystem can lead to disease-specific apps and allow patients to share their health information with researchers working on clinical trials to test a drug or treatment’s efficacy, or monitoring outcomes like those in the National Institutes of Health’s All of Us Research Program,” he continued.

ONC’s current efforts to promote interoperability and the development of mobile apps that enable EHR patient data access are partly fueled by the Trump administration’s MyHealthEData initiative.

Announced at HIMSS18, the initiative is intended to improve health data exchange and put patients in control of their own information. The government-wide initiative is spearheaded by the White House Office of American Innovation with participation from HHS, CMS, ONC, VA, and the National Institute of Health (NIH)

“ONC’s interoperability efforts focus on improving individuals’ ability to control their health information so they can shop for and coordinate their own care,” Rucker stated. “While many patients can access their medical information through multiple provider portals, the current ecosystem is frustrating and cumbersome.”

In order to realize the goals of initiatives such as MyHealthEData, Rucker argued that health IT developers need to make it easier for patients to aggregate their own health information across care settings and provider organizations.

The development of APIs that support mobile health apps patients can use to manage their own information will be instrumental in improving patient engagement and patient empowerment.

“ONC took a practical step to accelerate the use of APIs in healthcare with the 2015 Edition of the certification criteria adopted as part of the ONC Health IT Certification Program,” wrote Rucker. “Specifically, the 2015 Edition includes updated technical requirements that were not available in the prior edition and—to the benefit of the provider and the patient—to support further innovation in APIs and interoperability-focused standards.”

The 2015 edition certification criteria also include stipulations about application access. The criteria requires that health IT developers demonstrate that their products are capable of providing application access to patient health information through APIs.

“The 21st Century Cures Act (Cures) builds on ONC’s 2015 Edition and calls for the development of APIs that do not require “special effort” for developers to access and exchange health information,” stated Rucker. “ONC will address this requirement through rulemaking expected to be issued later in 2018.”

Ultimately, Rucker explained that coming regulations surrounding API development will foster a health IT ecosystem that prioritizes standardization, transparency, and competition.

“These goals should allow new business models and tools that will expand the transparency of all aspects of healthcare,” wrote Rucker. “New tools should allow patients to comparison shop for their healthcare needs like they do when hailing a ride.”

This more patient-centric approach to healthcare will assist in boosting patient satisfaction levels, as well as patient health outcomes.

Rucker credited the MyHealthEData initiative with being instrumental in “helping promote more consistent data flows, inject market competition in healthcare, and return individual control of their care to the American public.”
Already, the initiative has helped to catalyze changes to federal policy that prioritize interoperability improvements.

On April 24, CMS Administrator Seema Verma announced the meaningful use program would be rebranded as “Promoting Interoperability” to reflect the federal agency’s focus on improving health data exchange.

As part of a 2019 IPPS proposed rule, CMS announced the EHR Incentive Programs will now include a heightened emphasis on quality measures that require health data exchange between providers and patients. Additionally, the program will incentivize providers to make it easier for patients to obtain their medical records electronically.

Stakeholders are invited to submit feedback about the proposed rule until June 25, 2018.

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