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ONC Delivers Annual Health IT Report to Congress

November 10, 2016
by Rajiv Leventhal
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In its annual health IT report to Congress, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) said that the healthcare system is seeing “unprecedented levels of electronic health information exchange” while acknowledging there is more work to do to achieve truly seamless and secure flow of electronic data.

The report, sent to several members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, noted how far the industry has come since the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act launched its effort to spur the adoption and use of information technology throughout the health system. The report revealed data that in 2015, 96 percent of hospitals and 78 percent of physician offices use certified electronic health record (EHR) technology.

What’s more, ONC reported that hospitals and physicians are now exchanging more electronic health information than ever before. In 2008, 41 percent of all hospitals electronically exchanged health information with outside healthcare providers. These rates have since doubled. In 2015, more than eight in ten (82 percent) non-federal acute care hospitals electronically exchanged laboratory results, radiology reports, clinical summaries or medication lists. Moreover, of the hospitals that electronically send, receive, find, and integrate information, approximately nine out of ten report that they routinely had clinical information needed from outside sources or healthcare providers available at the point of care, which is about double the national average, the agency said.

Moving forward, ONC pointed out that along with federal partners, it developed the Federal Health IT Strategic Plan 2015-2020 (Federal Health IT Strategic Plan), which outlines the commitments of agencies that use or influence the use of health IT to expedite the availability of high-quality, accurate, secure, and relevant electronic health information for stakeholders across the nation. To go along with that, it also issued a Nationwide Interoperability Roadmap.

ONC further stated the work being done to achieve seamless and secure data flow by promoting common, federally-recognized standards, building the business case for interoperability, and changing the culture around access to information. Within these buckets, ONC pointed to: publishing the Interoperability Standards Advisory (ISA); completing the 2015 Edition final rule, which among other things, has a strong focus on the interoperable exchange of data, including through the use APIs such as those built using Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR); and the collaboration of community-driven, user-focused innovation work, such as the ONC Consumer Health Data Aggregator Challenge.

With regards to privacy and security, ONC mentioned a report it issued to Congress this summer that called for the federal government to address large gaps in policies around health data access, security and privacy with regard to mobile health apps and health social media. The agency further noted the steps it has taken, along with other federal partners, to discourage information blocking activity.

The report stated that the President's FY 2017 Budget included four legislative proposals for ONC, which aim to further the advancement of nationwide interoperability, reliability, and transparency of health IT. ONC requested additional authorities to combat information blocking, enhance transparency, establish rules of the road for the electronic exchange of health information, and establish a Health IT Safety Collaborative.

In conclusion, the report said, “Despite this widespread progress in modernizing the U.S. health IT infrastructure, there is more work to do to achieve truly seamless and secure flow of electronic health information for all clinicians, hospitals, communities, and individuals. HHS will continue efforts to promote the use of common, federally recognized, national standards, facilitate culture change around access to information—including combating information blocking, and build the business case for interoperability.”

It continued, “These efforts will help to advance national priorities, such as delivery system reform, the Precision Medicine Initiative, the Cancer Moonshot, combating opioid misuse and dependence, and enhancing public health. In the years to come, HHS will continue to work with federal partners, the private sector, and Congress to make electronic health information accessible when and where it matters most, in order to bolster care delivery and coordination, improve the health of individuals and communities, reduce disparities, fuel research and innovation, and spur advancements in scientific discovery.”

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