The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology at HHS has beefed up its scorecard of data exchange standards and implementation specifications to promote interoperability between electronic health-record systems.
The ONC describes the 2016 Interoperability Standards Advisory on HealthITBuzz, the official ONC blog, as “a single resource for those looking for federally recognized, national interoperability standards and guidance.”
“It seems to me that the standards advisory is exactly what government should do: Convene experts to determine which standards are appropriate for a purpose, then let industry decide what to implement based on the business need,” said Dr. John Halamka, chief information officer of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston.
“I'm hopeful that the standards advisory will become more influential than certification in accelerating interoperability,” Halamka said. That is, the ONC has previously pursued interoperability standards as part of the criteria for certifying technology for use under the federal EHR incentive program.
The 80-page document supplants a 13-page advisory the agency issued in January as a companion to its 10-year national interoperability roadmap. That plan set a goal to achieve nationwide information exchange capability for a core data set by the end of 2017.
The update provides ONC's evaluation of the “characteristics” of a standard or specification, including its relative maturity, level of adoption by the industry, whether its use requires a license fee, is specified by the government, such as in the EHR testing and certification scheme of the federal EHR incentive payment program, and whether a tool has been developed to test an IT system's conformance to the standards or specification.
Halamka was one of three industry experts on the federally chartered Health Information Technology Standards Committee—along with HCA Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jonathan Perlin and Dixie Baker of the consulting firm Martin, Blanck & Associates— who advised the ONC on how to evaluate and classify the standards.
The ONC plans to make updating the advisory an annual event, according to Steven Posnack, director, Office of Standards and Technology at the agency. A draft of a 2017 advisory should be published in about 9 months.
In an interview, Posnack explained the page length of the final 2015 advisory is six times larger than the initial January version in part due to requests to better explain the uses of the standards and implementation specifications listed and otherwise put more context around them. Included also to the latest version is a section of “projected additions” based on comments received on the September draft that may get worked into future advisories, Posnack said. The ONC also added a history of revisions to the standards and “a respectable amount of white space” to the document itself so that the information wasn't “all bunched up,” making it easier to read, he said.
The criteria for meaningfully using $31.7 billion EHR incentive program winds down and is replaced by inducements in the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015.