ONC to Focus on Achieving Interoperable Information Exchange in US

A focus on “what we have in common” to achieve interoperable health information exchange in the US was the message David R. Hunt, MD, FACS, medical director, health IT adoption and patient safety, Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC), provided during an update on ONC’s efforts at the Long-Term and Post-Acute Care Health IT Summit (LTPAC) in Baltimore, MD on Monday.

Hunt warned that the current complexity in healthcare delivery is not just a condition facing the acute care world, but that US providers need to recognize the need for effective care coordination where information technology (IT) connects to all care settings. Hunt highlighted a quote from Sir Cyril Chantler, MD, dean of London’s Guy’s Hospital, that reflects this current state of affairs: “Medicine used to be simple, ineffective, and relatively safe. Now it is complex, effective, and potentially dangerous.”

For the next three years ONC will have a laser focus on helping the healthcare industry with sending, receiving, finding, and using health information to improve healthcare quality, according to Hunt’s presentation. This includes fostering the exchange of information between acute care and long-term post-acute care.

Part of achieving this goal is making US health IT systems interoperable. To frame the discussion on interoperability, Hunt provided attendees with a refresher on the basic definition of interoperability:

  • Ability of two systems to exchange information
  • Ability of receiving system to use the exchanged information.

The recently released ONC report “Connecting Health and Care for the Nation: A 10-Year Vision to Achieve an Interoperable Health IT Infrastructure” was published to further the goal of interoperability in the US healthcare industry. There are currently three key areas of emphasis for ONC regarding interoperability efforts:

  • Leveraging government as a platform for innovation to create conditions of interoperability
  • Recognizing health information exchange (HIE) is not a “one size does not fit all” approach because different users have different needs
  • Recognizing that the infastructure build should be handled in incremental steps

Hunt explained that health IT is part of a sociotechnical system; a mixture of people, culture, and technology that all comes together to accomplish a common goal. One message was very clear in Hunt’s presentation: “Culture trumps absolutely everything” when it comes to embedding technology into the fabric of US care delivery.

A systematic and methodical approach to the integration of health IT will ultimately have the greatest chance of success in identifying and reducing errors, he said. Earlier this year ONC released the SAFER Guides to help organizations assess how safe their technology is from a usability standpoint. In addition, HIMSS has released an EHR Developer Code of Conduct. These are both effective resources for organizations to leverage when integrating health IT into their system.

With a shared vision, there is shared value, Hunt said. Industry importance should be placed on moving forward together now toward interoperability, and working together to go as far as possible.

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