Federal Health IT Strategy Updated

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) has recently released its Federal Health Information Technology Strategic Plan — 2011 – 2015. The plan is an updated version of the plan first published in June 2008, and reflects two significant pieces of legislation enacted since then — the the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, passed as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (P.L. 111-5), and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) (P.L. 111-148).

The plan reflects federal government priorities to help eligible providers become meaningful users of health IT; support implementation of the PPACA; protect individuals’ privacy; empower consumers with access to their health information, and support enhanced learning and innovation.

There are five major goals of the new plan —

  • Goal I — “Achieve Adoption and Information Exchange through Meaningful Use of Health IT”
  • Goal II — “Improve Care, Improve Population Health, and Reduce Health Care Costs Through the Use of Health IT”
  • Goal III — “Inspire Confidence and Trust in Health IT”
  • Goal IV — “Empower Individuals with Health IT to Improve their Health and the Health Care System”
  • Goal V — “Achieve Rapid Learning and Technological Advancement”

The ONC’s practical applications to carry out these goals are laid out below.

Meaningful Use

Health care providers not only are receiving financial incentives to adopt meaningful use of electronic health records (EHR). According to the ONC, they are “required to maintain data confidentiality, share information securely with each other, engage patients with their electronic health information, and improve care.” The specific objectives to carry out this goal include accelerating adoption of EHRs; facilitating information exchange to support meaningful use of EHRs; and supporting health IT adoption and information exchange for public health and populations with unique needs.

Improving Care and Reducing Costs

According to the ONC, one of the main purposes of PPACA was to transform the American health care system “from a system that emphasizes transactions to a system that emphasizes improved care, improved population health, and reduced per capita costs of health care.”  To achieve this goal, the ONC strategic plan calls for support for more sophisticated uses of EHRs and other health IT to improve health system performance; better management of  care, efficiency, and population health through EHR-generated reporting measures; demonstration of health IT-enabled reform of payment structures, clinical practices, and population health management; and support of new approaches to the use of health IT in research, public and population health, and national health security.

Trusting Health IT

The ONC noted, “EHRs and other health IT will enhance the quality and value of health care, but only if there are appropriate protections in place to keep health information private and secure. Privacy and security are the bedrock of building trust, a must-have component that is essential to achieving meaningful use and realizing the value of health IT. “

To carry out this goal, the ONC plan calls for protecting confidentiality, integrity, and availability of health information; informing individuals of their rights; increasing transparency regarding the uses of protected health information; and improving safety and effectiveness of health IT.

Empowering Individuals

The ONC strategic plan notes that “Health care, which often means initiating medical solutions after something has gone wrong, can only go so far in improving health. Individuals’ behaviors, and the ways in which communities foster healthy behaviors, are much more powerful forces for improving population health.”

The ONC plan calls for engaging individuals with health IT; accelerating individual and caregiver access to their electronic health information in a format they can use and reuse; and integrating patient-generated health information and consumer health IT with clinical applications to support patient-centered care.

Rapid Learning

The ONC notes that “there are two areas where the government is working in concert with the framework of meaningful use and [PPACA] to prepare for a future that is hard to predict: 1) enabling health IT innovation and research, and 2) leading the creation of a learning health system.” The main objectives in helping bring about this new health system include leading the creation of a learning health system to support quality, research, and public and population health; and broadening the capacity of health IT through innovation and research.