6 top ONC initiatives

Published
  • September 20 2016, 6:37am EDT

New ONC coordinator lists key initiatives

Vindell Washington, MD, moved into the lead role as National Coordinator for Health IT in mid-August. On Monday, Washington outlined the following key initiatives that ONC is pursuing and what he views as important challenges for the healthcare industry as it aims to take advantage of investments in IT.

1. Interoperability

ONC’s approach to pushing interoperability forward involves three strategies, Washington says. “One is standards—we want providers to use standards that are national in scope. The second is payment changes, as Medicare and other payers change the way care is paid for. The third and most important is cultural changes around the sharing of information. These are most likely to move toward the information sharing that we’re all desiring.”

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2. Standards

Washington appears ready to pursue ONC’s past strategy of encouraging standards adoption. “ONC wants to continue to work with standards organizations. ONC applauds the work in those sectors to move interoperability forward. We are also focused on making sure that the playing field is level and that folks are not left out (of initiatives that arise out of industry and vendor initiatives). There’s an opportunity to do more, and we can be more supportive of these efforts.”

3. EHR efficiency

The agency is aware of recent surveys that show that physicians are spending twice as much time in a typical workday documenting information in EHR systems as they do interacting with patients. Washington believes physicians will see efficiency gains as they get more benefits from records systems. He adds that, "Efforts will be at making sure that the documentation burden is centered around enhancing care.” Increased documentation demands are also a result of the shift to value-based care, Washington says.

4. Unique patient identifiers

ONC continues to support efforts to develop a way to uniquely identify patients and link that identity to their records. “The work that’s been done on patient identification is broad,” he says. “There’s some great work being done in the private sector around patient identification, and that of CHIME particularly comes to mind.”

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5. EHR certification

ONC will be playing a direct role in certifying EHR technology, representing a change from the practice of past years, when certification duties were done by outside organizations under federal contract. Some in the industry have expressed concern about ONC taking over the role. Certification "falls within the realm of ONC rule as the agency was initially defined. (Using) testing bodies was the right structure for that current level of maturity at that point of time. That was a delegation by ONC that was done for that particular time in the market,“ Washington says.

6. Technology investment

The agency is continuing to investigate the potential of new technologies, most recently seeking ideas for how blockchain technology could be employed within healthcare. “ONC is very interested in emerging technology, and blockchain is one of those. We issued a request for those who are experts in the field and wanted to give their opinion on how it could be used. We were surprised at the number and quality of responses that came in. We see our role as fostering that activity.”