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ONC Releases 2017 Interoperability Standards Advisory

December 20, 2016
by Rajiv Leventhal
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The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) today released the 2017 Interoperability Standards Advisory (ISA).

According to an ONC announcement, ISA catalogues key information about standards and implementation specifications—such as whether they are required by any federal programs or how widely used they are—to help enhance information sharing for key clinical data, including medication lists, immunization records, and test results.

The ISA is a model by which ONC coordinates the identification, assessment and public awareness of interoperability standards and implementation specifications that can be used by the industry. The 2017 ISA—an update to the 2016 version released in December 2015, and the draft 2017 version released in August—will aim to help stakeholders achieve these goals, and reflects the ongoing dialogue, debate, and consensus among industry stakeholders—including deliberations by the Health IT Standards Committee, federal officials attest.

As previously reported by Healthcare Informatics, “At a high level, the most substantial changes between the 2016 advisory and the draft 2017 ISA are largely related to the ISA’s content and framing. ONC is transitioning the ISA from a stand-alone document to a Web-based resource with greater interactive potential.”

In response to the draft version ONC released this summer, healthcare stakeholders such as the American Hospital Association (AHA) urged for more specific information on the characteristics and metrics it has used to assess the readiness of standards and implementation specifications for use in clinical care.

In the draft ISA for 2017, ONC discontinued the use of the label “best available” as an overall concept for the ISA to be more inclusive, which was a change recommended by the Health IT Standards Committee. “This change seeks to address feedback that stakeholders may perceive varied standards and implementation specifications associated with an interoperability need as ‘best’ despite known limitations or low adoption levels,” ONC officials stated in the draft advisory.

This year, ONC said that it transitioned the ISA from a static document to an online platform so stakeholders can more fully engage with and shape the ISA on an ongoing basis. The agency said this platform allows for more efficient, close to real-time updates and comments as well as links to projects included in the Interoperability Proving Ground that might be using a particular ISA-referenced standard.

What’s more, in the draft and final versions, ONC outlined what it called “six informative characteristics” about the maturity and adoptability of a given standard or implementation specification. These characteristics are: standards process maturity; implementation maturity; adoption level; federally required; cost; and test tool availability.

“The ISA is a key step toward achieving the goals we have outlined with our public and private sector partners in the Shared Nationwide Interoperability Roadmap, as well as the interoperability pledge announced earlier this year,” Vindell Washington, M.D., National Coordinator for Health IT, said in a statement. “We incorporated detailed stakeholder feedback to provide a consolidated, public list of standards and specifications that can be put to use to address clinical, public health, and research needs for sharing electronic health information.”

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