ONC announces new interoperability program for federal partners

Hands of doctor doing finances and calculate on table and healthcare business graph data and growth on hospital background
The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT's news initiative seeks to unify additional data standards for agencies with needs that extend beyond USCDI, the office's current baseline. It received quick applause from the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives. (ipopba/GettyImages)

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) has rolled out a new initiative that seeks to standardize the healthcare data sets federal agencies with specific needs that aren’t being addressed by the current baseline.

Called USCDI+, the initiative builds on the U.S. Core Data for Interoperability (USCDI), the first version of which was adopted as part of the ONC’s 21st Century Cures Act Final Rule.

This new process will support federal partners “who have a need to establish, harmonize and advance the use of interoperable datasets that extend beyond the core data in the USCDI in order to meet agency-specific programmatic requirements,” ONC wrote in an announcement blog post.

Coordinating this identification and establishment process through the formal USCDI+ initiative will allow ONC to ensure any additions to federal partners’ data requirements are built from a singular USCDI foundation, the office wrote.

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Alongside federal agencies, ONC said the effort will also support the government’s industry partners who stand to benefit from a more unified approach to data standards across different federal programs.

“On the one hand, we want to keep expanding [USCDI] to drive more interoperability,” ONC wrote in the announcement. “But on the other hand, we need to be judicious about what and how much to add in any given year because of the USCDI’s broad applicability to certified [electronic health records], interoperability transactions and its potential effect on user experience and workflow.

“We do recognize, however, that there are specific, but important, use cases that require consistency and alignment on datasets that go beyond the USCDI, and we need to be responsive to those needs. For this reason, we are launching … USCDI+,” the office wrote.

ONC said it is in the early stages of this initiative with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Additional federal agencies will also participate “once we’ve gotten the program more firmly established,” ONC said.

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ONC said USCDI+ would “follow the same basic principles” of USCDI but with some additional components such as the use of a discovery process and charter. Also similarly to USCDI, ONC said it would be looking to the Health IT Advisory Committee to help shape USCDI+ data sets and engage the public.

The announcement was quickly hailed by the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), which wrote in a statement that the additional coordination will reduce the burden on health IT actors across the entire U.S. health system.

“The USCDI+ effort will help providers take the need to sift through multiple evolving standards-making body announcements off their plates,” CHIME CEO Russell Branzell said in the statement. “This enables our members to focus on what matters most, caring for patients and continuing to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The deadline for developers of certified health IT products to support USCDI version one is Dec. 31, 2022. A second version that incorporates new standards surrounding sexual orientation, gender identity and social determinants of health data was finalized over the summer, although that delivery date is further off and will not be mandated “until the next time ONC undergoes a rulemaking process, at the earliest,” CHIME noted.

The combination of that recently published second version and the new USCDI+ initiative gives the health IT industry “an even clearer path forward is visible for the next steps in the standards development process,” CHIME wrote.