DeSalvo outlines ONC goals for 2016

“Everywhere I go, I feel a sense of urgency” about interoperability, said Karen DeSalvo, MD, MSc, MPH, national coordinator for health IT, speaking at the Bipartisan Policy Center’s program on interoperability.

That “wonderful sense of urgency” to establish a system in which data are unlocked and widely shared requires the industry to make systems more usable. “Sometimes that world seems a long way off but I want to remind you and reassure you that it happens every day.”

But it’s not happening everywhere all the time because the systems are still clunky and it’s hard to both put in and extract data.

DeSalvo cited a report on EHR adoption that says about 80 percent of physicians have adopted EMRs and 40 percent of patients can access their electronic health information. Most of that is through web-based interfaces but “we’re about to reach a tipping point where, even remotely, everybody can have access to their information and we know that when patients have access, they use it.”

While the statistics and facts are true, there are near-term challenges and “we feel them acutely.” That includes data not readily available, clunky system and the market not working as well as it should. “Finally we are still working to make sure that regulatory expectations and documentation burdens match with patient outcomes.”

DeSalvo reviewed the range of ONC’s output during 2015, including the following:

  • Interoperability roadmap which provides a plan for everyone to share and follow in partnership with Congress, the private sector, states and  consumers.
  • Certification rule which sets the expectations for the marketplace such as user-centered design and open architecture for EHRs.
  • Health information blocking report which examined allegtions of vendors and providers knowingly preventing the sharing of information.

All of this “brings us to a place where we’re trying to get a real return on investment.” That is happening through open APIs and new standards where it makes sense. “We need to get everyone to stop competing about standards and start competing within standards.”

ONC has big plans for 2016, she said. First is achieving the vision of an open, connected health system that connects the healthcare community with patients. To do that, “we all have to commit to broad goals,” such as not engaging in health information blocking and working together to develop the best standards that will be shared, recognized federally and agreed to by vendors. “We want to help catalyze these efforts.”

Second, DeSalvo said she wants to see connectivity improve. Every state, through the hard work of the private sector, has an information highway. “Our goal is to connect those within a year. That lays a foundation we can build upon year over year.”

Third, ONC will host two challenges next year to “drive the best to the top” for apps and other tools. She also mentioned establishing a place that will aid those who want to experiment with new technology. She said ONC will work with the private sector to develop a prototype.

By accomplishing these goals with the private sector, with the government catalyzing and convening, "we can meet the near-term challenges in health IT."