Report to Congress suggests product guidance role for ONC

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology has sent Congress a report examining the feasibility of helping providers compare and select certified electronic health records products.

The report was mandated under the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA), but with the EHR Incentive and Regional Extension Center programs winding down, ONC is examining how providers can continue to receive crucial support with implementing information technology.

Support is still essential, ONC believes, as many providers are upgrading or replacing EHRs they bought to achieve meaningful use, and they’re retooling as they get ready for reforms in healthcare.

“Improving providers’ ability to compare and select certified health IT will require multiple mechanisms that reply on support from both the federal government and private sector,” according to the report.

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But the degree to which ONC can provide this level of support isn’t yet clear, acknowledges a senior advisor at ONC, speaking on background. But the report puts ideas on the table.

ONC already offers a Health IT Playbook to aid in selecting products, and regional extension centers, which have offered providers technical and care transformation support, are still operating, although funding for the REC program is running out. Other federal resources could come from MACRA technical assistance, as well as the Office of Minority Health MACRA technical assistance and the Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research’s Evidence Now program.

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The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is ramping up the new Transforming Clinical Practices Initiative, is looking at support for physicians moving into value-based care, such as offering tools at a one-stop shop to compare vendor products. For now, the ONC report offers only a suggestion, with no firm ideas for how it could be funded, according to the OCR senior advisor.

“ONC could work with the healthcare community to solicit feedback on comparison tool needs and share best practices with the comparison tool community,” the agency said in its report to Congress.

In a transparency initiative that could be of real value, ONC during this spring is releasing data from its Certified Health IT Product List under what it calls “open data” CHPL. The hope is that the private sector and professional societies or associations will create product reviews and rankings. Also under “open data” CHPL, HIT vendors were required by April 13 to submit attestations that they will be transparent in their transaction fees and not engage in information blocking. The report is available here.

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