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ONC Updates Providers on Interoperability, EHR Usability Projects

ONC executive leaders gave HIMSS17 attendees an overview of some of the office's key interoperability and EHR usability projects.

ONC interoperability and EHR usability projects

Source: Thinkstock

- ORLANDO –  The Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) has a strong presence at the HIMSS Conference and Exhibition this year, engaging in a variety of educational sessions and informational presentations designed to reassure worried providers,EHR skeptics, and interoperability neophytes that the healthcare industry is on the right track.

As regulatory uncertainty, new reporting frameworks, innovative payment models, and certification requirements continue to upend the traditional clinical ecosystem, Dr. Jon White, Acting National Coordinator, seemed to have one objective for his Monday town hall event: let providers know that the ONC is actively working towards solutions for their most intractable problems.  

"Health IT has brought on a tremendous sea change," he said to a standing-room-only crowd.  "It's different than the way I practiced, and it's different in the way that we all receive care as patients. It provides a different way for us to experience our health and get to a better place." 

"We're on the road to interoperability, but of course there's a lot of work ahead of us.  We're talking about really critical and important work here." 

The new Presidential administration has given the department two main priorities, he added.  The first is to reduce the regulatory and administrative burdens on providers, and the second is to continue to improve interoperability across the care continuum. 

"That works for me.  I'm on board with both of those," White said. 

He shared the stage with a full complement of leaders from the ONC's major offices, including Acting Deputy National Coordinator Andrew Gettinger, MD, Director of the Office of Policy Elise Sweeney Anthony, JDDirector of the Office of Standards and Technology Steve Posnack, MS, MHS, Acting Chief Privacy Officer Deven McGraw, and Chief Scientist Dr. Teresa Zayas Cabán. 

Although White, along with many of his staff, are only temporarily serving as leaders while the new administration discusses permanent appointees, the team expressed optimism, pride, and commitment to the ongoing work of the ONC. 

Before taking questions from the audience, each department leader gave a brief overview of their latest activities and gave attendees a preview of upcoming projects, materials, and initiatives covering the full range of the ONC's purview. 

Some of the highlights include: 

  • The imminent release of updated and expanded Safety Assurance Factors for EHR Resilience (SAFER) guides to improve patient safety and ensure that providers are adhering to recommended best practices for data integrity, contingency planning, and system configurations. 
  • joint project with the National Quality Forum (NQF) to develop interoperability measure concepts and a framework to help providers achieve more seamless health information exchange, slated for release this summer 
  • A reminder about the availability of the Health IT Playbook, an interactive guide to core concepts related to health IT use, population health management, quality measurement, and value-based care 
  • An overview of how the ONC is integrating multiple stakeholder perspectives, including addressing the concerns of specialists, nursing staff, and supporting providers in areas such as respiratory care and dietary planning 
  • The ongoing development of educational resources related to HIPAA and patient privacy, including detailed guidance on permitted disclosures, data sharing, and security 
  • Assurances that the ONC is actively working to develop guidance and rules around the interoperability provisions of the 21st Century Cures Act, as well as addressing the legislation's impact on precision medicine, pharmaceuticals, and medical research 

Overall, the ONC leadership stressed their office's role in charting a clear path forward for the healthcare industry as providers continue to search for interoperability tools, data standards, and guidance around partnering with peers. 

Strengthened by the recently released Enhanced Accountability and Oversight rule, which gives the ONC more authority to look into EHR vendor shortcomings, the department is planning to ensure that the industry is ready and able to adopt 2015 Criteria Certified EHR Technology while meeting the regulatory and reimbursement challenges awaiting them in 2017 and beyond. 

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