ONC Hits Home Importance of Interoperability with HIT Grants

Three funding opportunities, totaling $36 million, have been announced by the HHS Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) to assist with health information technology (HIT) advancements. According to a release on the HealthIT.gov website, the grants, which will be divided among three separate programs, are focused on interoperability, data access, and healthier patients. The bulk of the funding will focus on advancing interoperability by encouraging widespread adoption of HIT. The funding is intended to be a step towards the HIT interoperability that was set out in the HHS Shared Nationwide Interoperability Roadmap (see Long awaited roadmap for health IT odyssey unveiled by the ONC, January 30, 2015).

Interoperability

The focus of the grants is to further connectivity of HIT systems. The ONC defines interoperability as “the ability of systems to exchange and use electronic health information from other systems without special effort on the part of the user.” Such information exchange is crucial to the advancement of health care because it leads to better care, smarter spending, and healthier people. The ultimate goal is to have health information available where and when it is needed, even when it is needed across organizational and geographic lines.

Grants

In terms of dollars, the most significant of the three grants is an award of $28 million which will be devoted to efforts to “accelerate the widespread adoption and use of health information exchange infrastructure.” The funding is intended to support the broader HHS efforts to facilitate the safe and secure exchange and use of electronic health information. The $28 million grant is designed on the state health information exchange (HIE) program already conducted by the ONC. An additional $6.4 million is being awarded to efforts to train and educate health care professionals in health information technology. The funding is going to be used to update existing training materials to include a focus on “population health, care coordination, new care delivery and payments models, and value-based care.” The final grant is an award of $1.7 million, which will be used to establish a “cooperative agreement to address health challenges at the population level through a community-based collaborative approach.” The goal of the funding is to transform care delivery through local learning, reduced redundancy, and the enhanced use of data.