The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT’s top priorities are focusing on combating COVID-19 with health IT, and is continuing to push for interoperability and uplifting equity and diversity in the health technology space, National Coordinator for Health IT Micky Tripathi said during the ONC Annual Meeting last week.
Tripathi, who came into his position in January with the new administration, underscored that COVID-19 and supporting executive directives through the pandemic are ONC's immediate priorities.
“We’re supporting one of the executive orders related to ensuring a data-driven response to high-consequence public health threats that we have the privilege of co-chairing with the CDC,” Tripathi said.
ONC is also helping the White House with credentialing vaccines and improving vaccine scheduling, working with industry partners to get “an incremental improvement through the use of a basic FHIR approach” to make vaccination time slot availability more accessible on various websites.
“When you search for a vaccination, not only will you find sites that have received vaccine allocation, but you’ll also have the opportunity to go in and see how many appointments are available, go into the workflow and schedule an appointment,” Tripathi said.
Piggybacking off of ONC’s work promoting FHIR-based capabilities and electronic health record adoption, Tripathi aims to take “health IT to the next level” by striving toward greater interoperability.
“Making interoperability a priority, and so building on all of the work that was done with the HITECH program and laying that foundation; we have the 21st Century Cures Act, which pushes us forward in thinking about how do we make interoperability sort of a routine thing that’s widely available and is easy for people to be able to use?” Tripathi said.
Tripathi noted that interoperability is an area that the health IT community has already made “tremendous progress in,” but there is more to do in seeking a “seamless experience” by integrating different layers of interoperability.
“Most of the interoperability that you see is out there right now at high volumes in the nationwide networks is for treatment purposes only, so … it doesn’t get a lot of visibility into other parts of the health care delivery value chain, as we think about payers and public health and other key stakeholders in health care,” Tripathi said.
Tripathi aims to figure out how to make local, state and regional health information exchanges fit into nationwide interoperability networks, and also aims to continue the information-blocking subset from last year’s ONC Interoperability Final Rule that rolled out April 5.
Throughout these modernization efforts, building systems that have health equity built in is also crucial to ONC’s upcoming work.
“We should be taking health equity concerns and having those be at the beginning of system design so they’re considered guiding principles for policy, business, systems, developers as we think about how that gets built right into the operating system, as it were, in terms of basic policy, clinical, technical, architecture and all those different dimensions,” Tripathi said.
Other ONC priorities included others around COVID-19, interoperability and health equity.
Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith of the COVID-19 Task Force pushed for greater visibility into COVID-19 vaccination data to get to better equity. She cited how equity can be achieved through effective use of data and data systems.
Others discussed how interoperability and better health systems can lead to better health outcomes, and how artificial intelligence solutions can combat medical bias.