- HHS released its five-year roadmap for health IT on Wednesday as part of its ongoing effort to get the government singing from the same sheet of music as it increasingly tries to put health data back in the patient's hands.
- The plan will act as a blueprint for federal agencies like the Department of Defense and the Department of Veteran's Affairs, along with private sector partners, as they work to make it easier for patients to electronically access health data. Much of the plan focuses on proliferating standardized application programming interfaces and stimulating a new "app economy" in healthcare.
- The plan was developed in tandem with more than two dozen other federal agencies. It will not affect or interact with HHS' long-awaited rules promoting interoperability in healthcare, which the department plans to release early this year.
The federal government has been carrot-and-sticking the private sector toward free sharing of health data for some time now, an effort revved up in 2016 with the passage of the 21st Century Cures Act. Wednesday's strategic plan for 2020 to 2025 will be used by federal agencies to divvy out resources, coordinate initiatives across departments and work with the private sector as they try to implement the bipartisan law.
Twenty-five federal organizations involved in regulating or using health IT collaborated on the plan, which is meant to help bring electronic health data into the hands of patients in the form of smartphone applications, among other methods.
ONC said it believes the plan will decrease provider burden and stimulate the growth of a new app economy in healthcare.
National Coordinator for Health IT Don Rucker wrote in a letter that the roadmap "emphasizes product and price transparency, allowing individuals to select the technology or app they wish to use to access their information and control its movement."
Rucker has been vocal in the past about his desire to bring third-party apps into healthcare to help consumers make sense of their own medical data. But industry has vociferously opposed the idea, voicing concern over privacy and security once health data is outside of traditional silos.
The plan "identifies all the essential, fundamental issues" around regulating health IT, Matthew Michela, CEO of interoperable data platform Life Image, told Healthcare Dive, though "one thing that's missing is a prioritization and an emphasis on which parts of the plan are most important and most impactful."
The federal government also needs to be prepared to hold its agencies to the stipulations of the plan, he added.
"If there's no enforcement backing this up, it's just a piece of paper," Michela, who's also a member of the Sequoia Project, which oversees the government's interoperability implementation, said.
Other key prongs of the plan include applying artificial intelligence and machine learning to high-stakes activities like patient matching; fostering "pro-competitive" business practices by making quality and price information public; capturing social determinants of health data into EHRs; and reducing provider burden through automation.
The roadmap won't interact in any way with twin rules from HHS that the department is working on getting out as quickly as possible, an ONC spokesperson told Healthcare Dive.
The rules from CMS and ONC have served as lightning rods for industry concerns over interoperability, especially providers fearful of incurring significant fines if they're found to be information blocking.
The public comment period for the draft plan closes March 18.