ONC's top goals: Interoperability, alignment and equity

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT’s top goals include prioritizing interoperability, aligning with federal partners, centering health equity and continuing to work toward addressing the COVID-19 crisis, said ONC head Micky Tripathi in an opening keynote for the agency’s annual meeting Monday.  

Tripathi, who was appointed to lead the agency by President Joe Biden earlier this year, said that assisting in the response to the novel coronavirus pandemic will continue to be a top focus in the months ahead.  

“First and foremost is COVID,” said Tripathi.  

ONC is involved in helping support the White House with regard to COVID-19 vaccine credentials, as well as with developing a basic FHIR approach to vaccine scheduling, said Tripathi. “We’re certainly not out of the woods yet,” he said. “We continue to have very hard work to do.”  

Tripathi flagged the importance of making interoperability a priority, including figuring out how local, state and regional health information exchange networks fit within nationwide ones. 

Thus far, he said, “we haven’t quite figured out how to integrate all the various layers of interoperability into a seamless experience.”  

Implementation of the 21st Century Cures Act’s interoperability rules will give stakeholders the opportunity to eliminate some interoperability-related confusion, he predicted – as will wider availability of APIs.

The Trusted Exchange Framework and Common Agreement, or TEFCA, can also be an important lever to work toward low-effort data sharing, said Tripathi, “so a user doesn’t have to think about what network they’re on.”   

“They just have interoperability, and they don’t have to think about what the pipes are underneath it,” he continued.  

As far as alignment with federal partners goes, Tripathi wryly noted that there are positives and negatives.  

“On the plus side, our federal partners are learning the value of EHRs and the ability to leverage them to do great things,” he said.  

“The downside is: Our federal partners are learning the value of EHRs and the ability to leverage them to do great things,” he joked.  

He noted that this could lead to an increase in entropy, with partners using FHIR in ways that are off track from the “standard roadmap.”  

“We’d like to use our collective federal muscle … to keep pushing forward toward an interoperability paradigm based on industry standards in the greatest way possible,” he said.  

Finally, Tripathi forecasted a future emphasis on “health equity by design”: centering equity as a guiding principle for system developers.  

“That’s a very important part of how we’re thinking about health equity and interoperability and health information in general,” he said. “Making sure health equity is a prime consideration.”

Tripathi urged the 2,000 registered meeting attendees to offer ongoing feedback and engagement with the ONC’s mission.

“You’ve all been part of a collective investment we’ve made on behalf of society,” he said.

Kat Jercich is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Twitter: @kjercich
Email: [email protected]
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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