ONC pushing for standards to increase interoperability

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) is pushing hard for universal adoption of standards that will increase the interoperability of health IT applications, according to Doug Fridsma, director of ONC's Office of Standards and Interoperability.

Writing on ONC's Health IT Buzz blog, Fridsma explained why these standards should not be optional. "Reducing optionality improves interoperability and lowers the cost for vendors to implement," he said, "thus lowering the cost for health care providers as well."

Fridsma summarized recent advances on three ONC projects related to interoperability standards:

The Transitions of Care (ToC) initiative, which has enlisted 150 participants, has "reduced optionality compared with the C32"--a standardized clinical summary document--and has clarified the specifications for HL7's Clinical Document Architecture (CDA). The ToC is being piloted in collaboration with state health information exchange and ONC Beacon programs. Meanwhile, unnamed EHR vendors have committed to testing the new CDA specs, according to Fridsma.

The Lab Results Interface initiative, meanwhile, has created a single lab result specification from the ELINCS project and the HITSP implementation guides, both based on the HL7 2.5.1 standard. (ELINCS is a national lab data standard for EHRs.) Ninety participants in this project agreed that this is the right direction to go in, Fridsma said. These include clinical laboratories, lab information system/EHR vendors, industry associations, government agencies, and clinical and technical experts.

The Modular Specifications project has reduced a variety of data transport mechanisms to just two "building blocks." These include a Secure Transport mechanism based on the Direct Project specifications for secure clinical messaging, and a second approach that addresses health information exchange specifications.

Fridsma also pointed out that the Health IT Standards Committee, a private entity that advises ONC, has made progress in two other areas. The committee has recommended a single standard for public health reporting, including lab results, immunizations, and syndrome surveillance. And its clinical quality measures workgroup and vocabulary task force have jointly developed recommendations for a single vocabulary for each of the administrative, clinical, laboratory and medications domains.

To learn more:
- read Fridsma's Health IT Buzz post 


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