The Zika virus' spread to the United States motivated a federal initiative to better use health information technology in public health reporting. But an HHS task force is developing recommendations on health IT best practices for public health that will also address other disease outbreaks.
The task force met Wednesday to update a draft of the list it presented for comment last week to a joint meeting of the federal Health IT Policy Committee and Health IT Standards Committee. The task force used the meeting to review and incorporate feedback received from joint committee members.
Meanwhile, the Government Accountability Office has taken a first step toward creating a single health IT advisory panel to replace these two committees, which have provided guidance to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology at HHS since 2009.
Recommendations from the task force, which has been meeting since December, include that ONC address the absence of a standard way to capture pregnancy status and associated data in an electronic health record system. One way to do that, the group said, is to encourage public vetting and eventually publish consensus standards on the ONC's Interoperability Standards Advisory.
The advisory is a public guide to standards and specifications—both mandatory and voluntary—that the ONC recommends providers and systems developers use to promote the free flow of health information.
The task force also recommended multiple improvements in clinical decision-support capabilities in EHRs, including better clinician access to guidelines for identifying patients at risk for emerging infectious diseases as well as guidance on how to better manage follow-up care for existing infectious disease cases.
The group also recommended improving the now-nascent electronic “initial case reporting” capabilities from EHRs to public health agencies by leveraging the work of the private Digital Bridge initiative and other projects still “in their infancy.”
All the tweaking of recommendations Wednesday was in preparation for delivering the group's final recommendations to the joint panel March 30.
The 21st Century Cures Act called for scrapping the ONC's policy and standards committees in favor of a single Health Information Technology Advisory Committee of at least 25 members.
The GAO, headed by the comptroller general of the United States, announced last week it was seeking nominations for the new panel.
Eight shall be appointed by Congress—two each by the majority and minority party leaders of the House and Senate—three by the HHS secretary and the remaining 14 by the comptroller.
At least two committee members must be advocates for patients or health IT consumers and the remainder must “at least reflect providers, ancillary health care workers, consumers, purchasers, health plans, health information technology developers, researchers, patients, relevant federal agencies, and individuals with technical expertise on health care quality, system functions, privacy, security, and on the electronic exchange and use of health information, including the use standards for such activity,” the GAO announcement said.
Letters of nominations and resumes must be received by the comptroller by April 14. The appointments will be made in July, the GAO said.