December 06, 2018

HHS Highlights Interoperability at ONC Annual Meeting

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) continued its interoperability focus at the annual meeting of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) November 29 and 30. 

The event featured presentations by HHS Secretary Alex Azar, HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan, National Coordinator for Health IT Don Rucker, MD, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and various health care and health IT industry leaders.

Azar outlined the Trump Administration’s goal of an interoperable health system that emphasizes patient control over access to their health data.

Hargan highlighted key activities and guiding principles for reaching the administration’s health IT objectives through the following:

  • Basing electronic health record (EHR) incentives and certification requirements on interoperability priorities
  • Developing open APIs (application programming interfaces), including the “BlueButton 2.0” API, and proliferation of the FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources) specification
  • Reducing EHR burden
  • Simplifying evaluation and management (E&M) services documentation
  • Implementing the recently expanded authority of the Office of Inspector General to investigate and penalize information blocking

Hargan also provided an overview of the “Regulatory Sprint to Coordinated Care” (RS2CC) initiative. It is intended to show how interpretations of regulatory requirements, such as Stark/self-referral/anti-kickback prohibitions and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliance, affect innovation.

Alexander and Baldwin discussed bipartisan efforts during the waning months of the Obama Administration to compile and pass the health IT-related provisions of the 21st Century Cures Act. Alexander, who serves as chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee, noted physicians’ concerns about interoperability, and EHR usability were instrumental in motivating Congress to get something done.

The ONC will soon release its long-awaited proposed rule to help kickstart the ACR-supported “information blocking” prohibitions of the 21st Century Cures Act. The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health has scheduled a December 11 hearing on the topic, which could indicate a public release within the next week.

At about the same time, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will release a proposed rule on interoperability and patient access to health information.