The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), a staff division of the Office of the Secretary, within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), has issued its annual report to Congress on the progress of health IT, focusing on interoperability and the seamless and secure flow of this health information to improve the health and care of individuals and communities.

Recognizing the inevitable and advantageous rise in adoption of a digital infrastructure, Congress passed the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), to spur the adoption and use of information technology (IT) throughout the health system.

There is an “unprecedented “increase in the flow of health information, the report states. In 2008, 41 percent of all hospitals electronically exchanged health information with outside health care providers. These rates have since doubled. In 2015, more than eight in ten (82 percent) non-federal acute care hospitals electronically exchanged laboratory results, radiology reports, clinical summaries or medication lists, according to the report.

The focus has expanded away from digitizing government health IT, to ensuring a more seamless and secure exchange of data.

To achieve this, HHS has focused on:

  • Promoting common standards to facilitate the seamless and secure exchange of data, including through the use of standardized, open application programming interfaces
  • Building the business case for interoperability, particularly through delivery system reform efforts that change the way the Centers for Medicare & Medicare Services (CMS) pay for care to reward quality over quantity of services; and
  • Changing the culture around access to information through: combating information blocking; ensuring that individuals know they have a right to access and transmit their health information and that providers know they must provide access to the individuals; and reminding health care providers that they are legally allowed to exchange information in the course of treatment or coordinating care.

Access to health IT is not restricted to the health care providers, The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule requires covered health care providers and health plans to provide individuals with access to their health information. This also expands the scope of areas which must be included in security provisions, and interoperability plans.

ONC has initiated key actions to accelerate the use of common standards, such as publishing the Interoperability Standards Advisory (ISA)a single resource for those looking for federally recognized, national interoperability standards and guidance. The ISA provides the industry with a single list of the standards and implementation specifications that can fulfill specific clinical health information interoperability needs.

The full report can be found here.