Karen DeSalvo calls for focus on greater EHR interoperability

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology is one of the government organizations that has been spearheading the adoption of electronic health records in the U.S., which is why health care professionals turn to the ONC to get answers about the future of this technology in the country. Recently, Karen DeSalvo, M.D., was named the national coordinator for health information technology, and she explained a little about what she sees happening with the ONC in the coming year. 

Government Health IT stated that DeSalvo has named interoperability a top priority of 2014. She named five goals that she has in order to help America improve the care experience, boost the health of all populations and reduce the costs of health care. First, she explained that she wants increased end-user adoption of health IT and to create standards that will make it easier for various technologies to communicate. Next, DeSalvo aims to offer the right incentives to encourage the advancement of technologies that can speak to one another. Furthermore, she aims to ensure that all personal health information remains private. Finally, she wants to offer more governance for health IT. 

Ready to tackle the challenge
While some providers may be concerned that everything that DeSalvo aims to achieve is overwhelming and out of reach, this is something that she is used to. That is because she previously worked in medical leadership roles in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. She explained that following the storm, many patients' paper records were destroyed and individuals were having a difficult time recalling their full medical histories. Furthermore, the situation was made even more difficult since health care providers had also been displaced along with their patients, so professionals were not available to help fill in the gaps in patients' histories. DeSalvo said that health IT played a large role in rebuilding the health care community in the city. 

Greater calls for interoperability 
It is a good sign that she has placed such a major focus on interoperability, since MedPage Today reported that health care providers are calling for greater interoperability of EHR systems now.

The news source explained that providers need to be able to easily share information with one another in order to be part of things like accountable care organizations and participate in other aspects of health care reform. 

"We've had, frankly, the government pushing people," Arien Malec, vice president at RelayHealth, a health information exchange solutions company, said at the annual meeting of the ONC for Health IT, quoted by MedPage Today. "Now I think we're going to see the pull from the healthcare sector demanding some of the basic aspects of interoperability."

The news source added that while providers may be demanding greater interoperability now, it is not required as a part of meaningful use just yet. Doug Fridsma, M.D., Ph.D., the ONC's chief science officer and director of its Office of Science and Technology, explained that while interoperability was not addressed in stage 1, officials are still pleased with the number of providers who have adopted EHRs during this stage. 

"I would say it's probably too early to tell where we are in achieving interoperability," Fridsma told MedPage Today. "One would hope that when we get to further use of information exchange, we see greater interoperability."

To explain how high the demand is for interoperability within the health care community, the new source explained that there are more than 300 providers that want to be a part of a statewide exchange in New York.

Dave Whitlinger, executive director of the collaborative, said at the ONC meeting that now is the time for vendors to take interoperability into their own hands, since clearly this is what consumers are calling for.