AAFP highlights concerns regarding ONC’s new interoperability plan

The American Academy of Family Physicians has begun to work at easing the administrative burdens that providers face, hoping to build off of goals that were made over a decade ago, which are still being implemented. This request followed the release of the Federal Health IT Strategic Plan 2015–2020 in December that was published by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. 

The main goal: Interoperability
The AAFP recently sent a letter to National Coordinator Karen DeSalvo, M.D., highlighting its doubts and concerns regarding the goals that were announced as a part of the federal agency's new plan. The ONC categorized each of its goals into three categories – collect, share and use. 

However, all three categories share one underlying goal – to increase the convenience and accessibility of health data for patients and providers through the use of health IT devices, such as electronic health records. 

Although the AAFP agrees that enhanced interoperability should continue to be a main goal for the coming years, the academy has doubts regarding the details outlined for each of the three goals. 

"As the AAFP considers its strategic plan for the next 10 years for health IT, we believe that interoperability remains a key capability for our specialty," said AAFP board chair Reid B. Blackwelder, M.D., in the letter to the ONC. "Usability of health IT is also top of mind for our members."

In the letter, the AAFP mentioned a few suggestions and concerns, such as the intense administrative and regulatory burdens that providers have been facing, which the new goals fail to adequately address.

AAFP concerns and suggestions
The AAFP first made a few suggestions concerning the "use" category of the new goals. The strategic plan under this particular goal appeared better suited for the Department of Health and Human Services, rather than the ONC, according to Blackwelder in the AAFP's letter. Due to the need for the HHS to work financial incentives around sufficient care delivery, the academy believes that it is essential for the department to mirror the goals highlighted in this section. 

Similarly, although the academy understands that the goals under the "collect" and "share" categories are important and effective, it noticed that there is not much of a difference between the specifics in these sections compared to the ones listed from years past.

In fact, Blackwelder referred to them as indistinguishable from those established decades ago. Experts cannot help but wonder why these goals were not achieved in the past, as they continue to resurface as new goals. It is important for the future of health IT that tactics and strategies are different and continuously progressing each year, and the fact that they have not changed is concerning. 

Supporting the ease of regulatory burdens
One of the suggestions the academy included on its list of comments for the ONC was that there should be a consistent focus on value, which implies the need for efforts to both clarify and simplify regulations. 

"From the perspective of a practice, the myriad of regulations and rules from multiple agencies places a heavy administrative burden," said Blackwelder. "As efforts across agencies can be harmonized and where possible combined, it could significantly decrease this burden on practices."

The letter ended with a final concern that there would not be enough short-term goals and achievements to give the health IT industry enough momentum to reach the main goals the ONC has laid out. The industry has seen great progress over the last year and the AAFP believes that these successes should be leveraged to assist the new, larger goals in becoming successful and working to ease regulatory burdens.