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AAFP Responds to ONC’s Federal Health IT Plan, Offers Suggestions for Improvement

January 22, 2015
by Rajiv Leventhal
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In a letter addressed to the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) for Health IT, the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) supported the federal government’s strategic plan for health IT, but urged the agency to ease burdens on physicians.

The comments from AAFP board chair Reid Blackwelder, M.D., are in response to ONC’s five-fold federal health IT strategic plan, which focuses on widespread health data sharing and looks beyond adoption of electronic health record (EHR) systems. ONC released its plan in December and is currently taking public comment on it until Feb. 6. The plan covers 2015-2020, and is a sequel to the first strategic outline from ONC, which covered 2011-2015.

Blackwelder recognized the federal government's efforts and supported its mission to improve health and healthcare and to reduce costs through the use of health IT. "This strategic plan provides a blueprint to move forward, and we must now define and implement its tactics," Blackwelder said in an AAFP news release.

He called coordination across multiple federal agencies —as outlined in the plan—useful and appropriate, but said it presented a dilemma for practicing physicians. "From the perspective of a practice, the myriad of regulations and rules from multiple agencies places a heavy administrative burden (on physicians)," said Blackwelder. "As efforts across agencies can be harmonized and, where possible, combined, it could significantly decrease this burden on practices."

He urged a "continued focus on value" and suggested that could mean simplifying regulations and eliminating waste. He also pointed out that the ONC's goals of collecting and sharing health information were "indistinguishable" from the goals and objectives that were to have been achieved during the previous decade."We are concerned that work has not been done to determine why these goals have not been achieved during the past 10 or more years and how the tactics and activities of the next 10 years will be different," Blackwelder said.

He noted the AAFP has its own health IT strategic plan for the next 10 years and said that interoperability and usability were "top of mind" for family physicians. "Given the breadth and depth of the work that could be initiated around health IT, we are concerned that resources may be spread so thin that no significant achievements are made toward the goals laid out in the federal health it strategic plan," said Blackwelder.

He then encouraged the ONC to focus on the key capabilities healthcare organizations and physicians really need to move forward and specifically named population health management, care coordination and patient engagement as issues worthy of ONC's immediate attention.



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