Congress to ONC: Focus on interoperability

Congress has made clear that the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT's priority should be on interoperability, ordering the agency to change how it certifies electronic health records so that non-interoperable products don't make the cut.

In the report to the 2015 omnibus appropriations bill, passed this week, legislators urge ONC to:

"[U]se its certification program judiciously in order to ensure certified electronic health record technology provides value to eligible hospitals, eligible providers and taxpayers. ONC should use its authority to certify only those products that clearly meet current meaningful use program standards and that do not block health information exchange. ONC should take steps to decertify products that proactively block the sharing of information because those practices frustrate congressional intent, devalue taxpayer investments in CEHRT, and make CEHRT less valuable and more burdensome for eligible hospitals and eligible providers to use."

The report calls on ONC to provide, within 90 days, a report outlining the extent of the "information blocking problem," including an estimate of the number of vendors or hospitals and providers who block information, as well as a "comprehensive" strategy on how to address the issue. It also directs the Health IT Policy Committee to submit a report to the House and Senate within the year on the operational and financial challenges and barriers to interoperability, as well as the role of certification in advancing or hampering data sharing.

Interestingly, the appropriations bill doesn't address how ONC should mold or operate the Meaningful Use program, despite prior criticisms by Congress and a pending bill that would have shortened the reporting period in 2015 from 365 to 90 days. Interoperability has been more of a focus in recent months for both Congress and ONC, the latter of which has created an interoperability roadmap and is focusing on data sharing in its new strategic plan.

To learn more:
- read the report (.pdf)