Policy group recommends ONC ‘narrow its focus’ on consumer protections, create more space for innovation

National Coordinator Donald Rucker, M.D., said a pro-competitive approach to regulation needs to be balanced with an obligation to taxpayers. (Photo via YouTube)

A policy workgroup created by Health IT Now and the Bipartisan Policy Center is asking for a lighter-touch approach from federal regulators to allow the private sector to forge ahead with health IT innovation.

Specifically, the workgroup advocated for changes to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT’s (ONC) Health IT Certification Program. In a report released on Wednesday, the group called for ONC to “narrow its focus to core consumer protections,” allowing the private sector to fill the gaps.

The group—which included nearly 50 representatives from health IT companies, advocacy groups and providers—argued that ONC’s certification program may have been beneficial during the early stages of the HITECH Act, but it has created unnecessary burdens and dissatisfaction among physicians in its current form.

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ONC has already launched an effort to reduce the burden tied to EHR certification attestation, allowing vendors to “self-declare” compliance with 30 of the 55 certification criteria. The agency is also scheduled to release certification updates in April.

Those were just some of the recommendations the policy group had for federal officials. The report outlined ideal oversight principles, encouraging innovation by “being flexible, technologically neutral, and not overly prescriptive.” The group also advocated for a risk-based approach that reflects the principles of a learning health system and allowing software developers to report to patient safety organizations.

ONC National Coordinator Donald Rucker, M.D., who delivered a keynote address at an event hosted by Health IT Now and the Bipartisan Policy Center, expressed support for a pro-competitive approach from the federal government. But he also argued that massive spending across healthcare has been the “biggest burden on the American taxpayers and the American economy.”

“The agency I work at now spends $500 million every business hour,” he said. “Think about that.”

For health IT specifically, the federal government has doled out $38 billion in EHR incentives. Now that he’s on the government side, Rucker said there’s a “moral and public obligation” to address fraud and abuse and ensure that taxpayer money is being used appropriately, while also accounting for the burdens that healthcare providers face.

“It’s very easy to say, 'I don’t want X and I don’t want Y, just give me the money,'” he said. “Just back the Brinks truck up to hospital loading dock, collect it and convert it into marble in the front of the building.”

“It’s very easy to do and I’ve been in some wonderful insertions that might have don’t that,” he added. “I was somewhere in the middle, so I’m probably guilty as well.”

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While he categorized information blocking as the “least important” focus for ONC, Rucker underscored the agency’s work in advancing interoperability through the Trusted Exchange Framework and Common Agreement, which the agency plans to finalize by the end of the year. He is also focused on carrying out a key provision of the 21st Century Cures Act, which dictates that open application program interfaces (APIs) can access clinical data “without special effort,” pointing specifically to Apple’s recent effort to make medical records accessible on the iPhone.

“That’s the first of a long empowering journey,” he said.