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  • HHS Lays Out Vision for Health Care IT

    By 2024, health care consumers will access, manage, and share their own health care data with multiple providers through a "seamless" set of technologies; primary care providers will access patient genetic information and research on medication efficacy to pinpoint the best treatments for individual patients; and all participants in the health care system—including patients—will contribute to a massive body of data that can be used to further research.

    That's the plan, at least, according to a recently released vision statement (.pdf) from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) agency charged with making those goals a reality. The ONC document shares, in broad strokes, the "consistent, incremental, yet comprehensive" approach it will take to make the use of health IT ubiquitous and easy-to-use.

    The "interoperable health IT infrastructure" report outlines goals for the next 3, 6, and 10 years that put emphasis on hammering out the technical aspects of interoperability in the earlier stages of development, and growing the use of an integrated system by way of policy and business practice changes later on. At every point along the way, the report states, work will be guided by 10 principles, among them a respect for the differing needs of health care providers and institutions, an acknowledgement that change will occur at different rates for different groups, and an understanding that privacy and security must be a central consideration in any new approach.

    ONC admits that the road ahead could be a long one given the current state of health IT. "It is not the norm that electronic health information is shared beyond groups of health care providers who subscribe to specific services or organizations," write the report's authors. "Electronic health information is also not sufficiently standardized to allow seamless interoperability, as it is still inconsistently expressed with vocabulary, structure, and format, thereby limiting the potential uses of the information to improve health and care. We must learn from the important lessons and local successes."

    Still, these are issues that can be overcome, according to the vision plan. "HHS is fully committed to ensuring ubiquitous, standards-based interoperability of health information across all care settings through a multi-year approach," authors write. "No one person, organization, or government agency alone can realize this vision of an interconnected health system. But together, we can achieve the promise and potential of health information technology to improve the health of all."

    ONC is the principal federal entity charged with coordination of nationwide efforts to implement and use health information technology and the electronic exchange of health information. The position of National Coordinator was created in 2004 and was legislatively mandated in the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH Act) of 2009.

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