The Trump administration's focus on interoperability continues, but this time it's homing in on researchers.
Biomedical and health services researchers haven't been able to capitalize on the growing amount of electronic health data spawned by electronic health records and consumer electronics. They cite data and health IT infrastructure problems as a major hurdle, HHS' Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology said in its agenda for health IT research.
"Research is often inhibited, and advances in discovery may be delayed because electronic health data are stored across disparate systems, data standards are inadequate or inconsistently adopted and used, and challenges in governance hinder access and use," the ONC said.
Two of the agency's top priorities to address these concerns are to increase data harmonization and improve access to interoperable health information. These changes would make it easier for academics and analysts to conduct research efficiently, which could lead to new innovations and improve the delivery of care, according to the ONC.
Greater data harmonization would help researchers combine, standardize and compare health information from a wide range of sources. That could allow them to carry out research that would otherwise be prohibitively expensive and time-consuming, if not impossible, and to take advantage of advanced technologies and methods like artificial intelligence and machine learning that require reams of data to be effective.
Improving access to interoperable health information would require everyone in the health IT ecosystem to allow researchers to unearth and transfer health data using a common set of means and infrastructure. It would also require equitable access to reference documentation so researchers would know how to use the information once they got their hands on it.
Researchers' ability to do their jobs is ultimately limited by the quality and quantity of data that they have access to, and their ability to process and examine that data. The ONC's plan proposes to address both issues.
It's part of the Trump administration's broader push toward interoperability and its crackdown on data blocking. HHS is soon expected to unveil its final rules on those issues. Many insurers, health systems and vendors have pushed back on the proposed changes, arguing that they'll jeopardize patient privacy and cost the industry a lot of money.
But the administration has steadfastly defended the changes, saying that patients have a right to access, move and use their health information without sacrificing their privacy.
In addition to improving data harmonization and access, the ONC's agenda aims to improve the quality of health data and health IT infrastructure. That includes a move away from local data storage and toward cloud computing and improving the incentives for patients and providers to participate in research, among other changes.