Three core healthcare IT issues—meaningful use, interoperability, and consumer exchange—dominated discussions during the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology’s (ONC) Town Hall on March 4 at HIMSS 13 in New Orleans.
In front of a crowded turnout that included an overflow of attendees, Farzad Mostashari, M.D., national coordinator for health IT, headed a panel of ONC leaders who spoke about critical work being done in the office before taking questions from conference attendees. Mostashari expanded on what he sees as the three current priorities in health IT, saying meaningful use must be made “as meaningful as possible,” opportunities in interoperability need to be pushed, and the movement around consumerism in healthcare must be supported.
Several ONC officials stressed meaningful use, and how it is the foundation of the three-pronged aim of health IT, which is better health, reduced cost, and better healthcare, explained David Muntz, 40-year industry veteran and ONC principal deputy national coordinator.
Jacob Reider, M.D., director, office of the chief medical officer at ONC, added, “let’s not think of meaningful use as a box to check.” Ultimately, said Doug Fridsma, M.D., ONC director, office of science and technology, the onus on ONC doesn’t end with the end of the meaningful use incentive payments. “We need to get better and better ourselves,” he said when an attendee asked him about ONC’s future responsibilities.
Judy Murphy, R.N. deputy national coordinator for programs and policy at ONC, handled most of the interoperability and exchange questions, admitting that interoperability is complicated and has been more difficult to execute than expected. “Stage 2 meaningful use is pushing interoperability, though, she said, and “now it’s really starting to step up.”
In terms of consumer engagement, Lygeia Ricciardi, leader of the consumer eHealth program at ONC, said she strongly believed that consumers are highly underutilized in healthcare, and need to be engaged more. “There are so many ways IT can help consumers engage in their health,” she said. “Better communication with providers, through text and e-mail in real time, can help coordinate care and help consumers manage their care on a daily basis.”
ONC has mapped out a “three A’s” strategy for consumer engagement, continued Ricciardi, speaking of a belief in access, action, and attitude. People need to gain access to their health records, and they need to be encouraged to get their own information, ask questions, and work in partnership with their providers, she said. “Patients can be an HIE of one, sharing information with whomever they please.”
Privacy and security breaches were also questions that came up in the Q&A part of the session. Joy Pritts, ONC chief privacy officer, said cyber security is going to be a major issue for healthcare going forward, adding that encryption is encouraged. "Patients want their data and have a right to get it." However, “software can’t make you HIPPA compliant,” she warned. “Providers need to be accountable for technical, administrative and physical safeguards.”
With regard to the future, Mostashari was asked where he envisions the industry in 2020. “Our longer term vision is that every healthcare interaction benefits from all the world’s knowledge,” he said. Every encounter that generates knowledge [should] add to the world’s knowledge. If we aren’t accomplishing that in the next seven years, we won’t have met the challenges in time.”