ONC Reveals 10-Year Plan for Interoperability of Health Records

The Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) for Health IT’s recent paper “Connecting Health and Care for the Nation: A Ten-Year Vision to Achieve an Interoperable Health IT Infrastructure” is well aligned with many of AHIMA’s priorities.

As adoption of electronic health records (EHRs) and the exchange of health information has grown in recent years, so too has the need to make sure health IT systems can “talk” to each other.

In a blog post introducing the paper, Karen DeSalvo, MD, MPH, MSc, explains that the agency has “heard loudly and clearly that interoperability is a national priority. We also see that there is a tremendous opportunity to move swiftly now. We know that consumers increasingly demand that their data flow and follow them across care settings and beyond,” DeSalvo writes. This concept echoes AHIMA’s own commitment to provide patients access to their health data where and when they need it.

The paper also highlights advances the healthcare industry has made in its adoption of EHRs: Over one-half of office-based professionals and more than eight in 10 hospitals are meaningfully using electronic health records, while one-half of hospitals are able to electronically search for patient information from sources beyond their organization or health system.

However, the paper also notes that “despite significant progress in establishing standards and services to support health information exchange and interoperability, it is not the norm that electronic health information is shared beyond groups of health care providers who subscribe to specific services or organizations. This frequently means that patients’ electronic health information is not shared across organizational, vendor and geographic boundaries.”

 

Guiding Principles of Interoperability

As part its 10-year plan, ONC states that by 2024, “individuals, care providers, communities, and researchers should have an array of interoperable health IT products and services that allow the health care system to continuously learn and advance the goal of improved health care.”

To meet this goal, the paper identifies a set of guiding principles to help along the way:

  • Build upon the existing health IT infrastructure.
  • One size does not fit all. Interoperability requires technical and policy conformance among networks, technical systems, and their components.
  • Empower individuals.
  • Leverage the market.
  • Simplify. Where possible, simpler solutions should be implemented first, with allowance for more complex methods in the future.
  • Maintain modularity.
  • Consider the current environment and support multiple levels of advancement.
  • Focus on value.
  • Protect privacy and security in all aspects of interoperability.

 

These guidelines also follow AHIMA’s position in the past that the path toward interoperability of health records requires an approach that includes clear principles, rules, and well-managed processes that take interdependences into consideration.

 

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