ONC pubs final 2016 Interoperability Standards Advisory

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT has unveiled its finalized 2016 Interoperability Standards Advisory, the agency's interpretation of the "best available" interoperability standards and implementation specifications.

The document, released on Tuesday, includes "significant structural changes" to its 2015 predecessor, according to Steven Posnack, director of the agency's Office of Standards and Technology, and Chris Muir, who works on health IT infrastructure and innovation at ONC. The information includes a list of six characteristics (standards process maturity; implementation maturity; adoption level; whether the standard is federally required; cost involved; test tool availability) that break down each standard.

"We believe that these characteristics will help provide stakeholders with more context regarding the relative maturity and adoptability of standards and implementation specifications," Posnack and Muir write in a Health IT Buzz blog post. They add that the characteristics will enable ONC to track industry progress over time.

A draft version of the advisory published in September, which included the plan to use the six characteristics, was met with a mixed response from industry stakeholders. The American Hospital Association (AHA), for instance, in comments to National Coordinator Karen DeSalvo in November, said the advisory should supplement the characteristics with information on the use of the standard in a real-world environment. Simply because something has been widely adopted, the AHA said, does not necessarily mean that it successfully meets providers' needs. The association cited the Direct standard as an example.

What's more, AHA said that the advisory also should include information on any limitations or preconditions on a standard, the availability of test tools to evaluate conformance to the standard or specification, and more education about the best available standards to support successful use.

The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, meanwhile, applauded the six new characteristics in comments on the draft version, but at the same time called the inclusion of maturity levels in the standards a complex and "nuanced" area that cannot be viewed in a simplistic, "two dimensional" way.

ONC itself noted in the document that despite the six assessment characteristics, "gaps" will remain a reality; it called assessing the adoption and maturity standards "an ongoing process," and asked for continued feedback.

To learn more:
- here's the final advisory (.pdf)
- read the Health IT Buzz blog post