ONC Draft 2016 Advisory works to enhance EHR interoperability

ONC’s Draft 2016 Advisory works to enhance EHR interoperability

Interoperability is a crucial component of establishing a nationwide system of electronic health records that benefit health professionals and their patients. Doctors need to be able to send their patients' health information to their specialty physicians to ensure correct diagnoses and proper treatment. 

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology has created the 2016 Draft Interoperability Standards Advisory to improve the standards for clinical operability. The new regulations are meant to increase the speed at which the health care sector progresses in making important data shareable between various care settings. 

ONC looks for feedback on recent standards advisory
The ONC is asking for feedback on the recently released interoperability standards, opening up a forum for public comment. In addition to requesting feedback, the ONC made sure to emphasize the fact that the draft is meant to guide decision-makers as they continue to work toward an industry where data can more easily be transferred between health professionals.

The goal is to push future advisories to start to not only address but identify more of the industry's interoperability needs in years to come. The agency noted that many of the health IT standards listed in the draft will be outside of the current regulatory requirements. Physicians should not feel that these standards are binding rules, but a look at what the sector needs to start working toward accomplishing.

"While the standards and implementation specifications included in an advisory may also be adopted in regulation [already or in the future], required as part of a testing and certification program, or included as procurement conditions, the advisory is non-binding and serves to provide clarity, consistency, and predictability for the public regarding ONC's assessment of the best available standards and implementation specifications for a given interoperability need," the federal agency stated in the report

Many health professionals were anxious to see how the new standards differed from the ones suggested for 2015. The ONC explained in the report that one of the most significant changes includes how implementation specifications and health IT standards are referenced, as the interoperability needs of stakeholders now take priority over general purpose. The ONC broke down these interoperability needs into two groups, including known limitation and dependencies, and security patterns and preconditions.

New health IT standards focus on EHRs
The new advisory features six informative characteristics, including adoption level, cost, regulated, standards process maturity, implementation security and test tool availability. There is also an appendix of security standard sources provided to assist stakeholders as they try to stay up to date with relevant standards information.

Interoperable health IT systems are the primary focus of the new advisory, according to the ONC in its report. The standards listed in the draft are centered around clinical health technology, with information that health professionals can use during situations in which interoperability is needed, such as when they have to send a referral to a provider in a different care setting. The aspects that the advisory lacks include payment-oriented interoperability purposes and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act transaction regulations that are administered by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. 

The ONC hoped that the advisory would encourage a discussion in which stakeholders contribute their opinions on which current and upcoming health IT standards are working and which are not. 

"When more than one standard or implementation specification is listed as the best available, it is intended to prompt industry dialog as to whether one standard or implementation specification is necessary or if the industry can efficiently interoperate more than one," the ONC noted. 

The public will be able to leave a comment or suggestion until Nov. 5.