The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology supports the interoperability provisions in the 21st Century Cures Act and is making the law’s implementation a top priority.

That’s the message Acting National Coordinator Jon White, MD, delivered during an ONC town hall meeting on Monday at the HIMSS17 conference in Orlando.

“Our programs and our policies are pretty specifically shaped by the law of the land,” said White. “We’re a nation of laws, and we’re rule followers.”

At the same time, White dismissed the idea that the agency has been dragging its feet in implementing the Cures Act because the new Trump administration has not yet appointed someone to serve as National Coordinator.

“We don’t need to wait for the next National Coordinator,” added White. “I did kind of need to wait for (HHS) Secretary Price to get confirmed so the secretary could say ‘yes, this is the direction we’re going to go in.’ ”

Jon White

Also See: HIT leaders buoyed by Price confirmation as HHS head

“I am going to welcome with open arms the next National Coordinator (and staff) when they come. We’ll be delighted to have them and we’ll bring them right in and get them up to speed,” concluded White. “We, internally, have been working very closely—not just amongst ourselves—but with the new political leadership and the new (HHS) Secretary’s office.”

Nonetheless, White pointed out that the Cures Act contains legislative language that gives specific authority to ONC and separately to the HHS Secretary, as well as shared jurisdictions between the two entities, such as the Office for Civil Rights.

“That kind of stuff we’ve got to get worked out,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure that we’ve got that executive sponsorship from the new political leadership to move ahead.”

Also See: ONC continues to grapple with how to implement Cures Act provisions

The law codifies new authority for ONC to address interoperability through additional conditions of certification for HIT developers related to: access, use and exchange of electronic information; usability, security and business practices; real-world testing; as well as publishing application programming interfaces. In addition, the Cures Act supports interoperability through several provisions including the prohibition of information blocking and authorization of penalties of as much as $1 million per violation.

Further, under the Cures Act, ONC’s two federal advisory committees—the Health IT Policy and Standards Committees—will be replaced by a new Health IT Advisory Committee.

As required by the law, Elise Sweeney Anthony, director of the ONC Office of Policy, said the agency is working on an “orderly and timely transition” to the HIT Advisory Committee, which has been charged with making interoperability a priority and recommending to the National Coordinator “standards, implementation specifications and certification criteria, relating to the implementation of a health information technology infrastructure, nationally and locally, that advances the electronic access, exchange and use of health information.”

However, Sweeney Anthony would not commit to a timeframe for the establishment of the new HIT Advisory Committee.

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