HIT Policy, Standards panels wind down operations

The federal advisory bodies—the Health IT Policy and Standards committees—for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology held their final meeting on Thursday.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 established the HIT Policy Committee and Standards Committee. However, under a provision of the 21st Century Cures Act signed into law in December 2016, the committees will be replaced by a new Health IT Advisory Committee which has been charged with making interoperability a priority and recommending HIT standards, implementation specifications, and certification criteria to the National Coordinator.

Speaking at Thursday’s last meeting of the HIT Policy-Standards Committees, Acting National Coordinator Jon White, MD, thanked the members of the committees for their hard work and dedication to advancing electronic access, exchange, and use of health information.

“All things end—that is a fact of life,” said White. “What’s important is what you do with the time that you are given.” Health IT, he added, is “how we make our health system work, and we need that information…there is a future and we’ll move on ahead.”

Elise Sweeney Anthony, director of the ONC Office of Policy, echoed White’s comments adding that as the policy and standards committees are “winding down” the Health IT Advisory Committee will be “winding up” with member nominations for the new body ongoing.

“We’re excited about the opportunity that Congress has set forth in [the Cures Act] but obviously it is bittersweet in terms of closing out these two committees,” said Sweeney Anthony, who added that the appointment process for the Health IT Advisory Committee “has already begun” with the Government Accountability Office, which will appoint 14 of the committee’s members.

Sweeney Anthony said the GAO’s deadline for accepting nominations to the committee is April 14, and that the appointments will start in July. For ONC’s part, she indicated that the agency is “still closing out” the HIT Policy-Standards Committee process and that ONC will be putting together a transmittal letter for the Public Health Task Force recommendations discussed in Thursday’s meeting.

After all of those tasks are completed, Sweeney Anthony added that ONC will issue its own “announcement for membership and appointment” to the Health IT Advisory Committee. “We have three appointees,” she said. “The other group is Congress, and it’s divided between the House and the Senate. They also have combined eight appointee positions as well.”

White also took the opportunity to introduce John Fleming, MD, the new Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health Technology Reform, whom he said will report to the National Coordinator for HIT after that person has been appointed by the Trump administration and begins work.

“John and I were introduced in a late night phone call, and it has been a joy, pleasure to have him at ONC,” added White.

Also See: Fleming to serve as deputy assistant secretary for health technology

Fleming, a family physician, joked that his title is “so long” and that in Washington, there is an “inverse relationship between the length of your title and how important you are.” He noted that in his medical practice he saw a future for electronic health records as early as 1997, when “we implemented the first—as far as I know—private practice EHR in Louisiana, and we were paperless by 1999.”

However, Fleming observed that with the advent of the Meaningful Use program providers found that EHR vendors were having difficulty helping them meet those requirements. Nonetheless, he indicated that his practice in Louisiana is “nearly on its third generation of records because, oftentimes, meeting the needs that we in Washington ask and the needs of the doctor have not always coincided.”

Still, Fleming proclaimed that he believes the future of healthcare is “highly dependent” on health IT.

White told the committees that Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, MD, has “an unwavering commitment to improving interoperability using HIT to get to a better healthcare delivery system and for better health for the nation,” as well as to “reduce the burden that the use of these information systems has for our clinicians.”

“That’s reassuring to know that the leadership is there with us as they are getting settled and are pointed in the same direction that we are,” concluded White.

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