The Health Information Technology Advisory Committee on Thursday mulled priorities for a task force focused on COVID-19 response, which it plans to convene in the coming weeks.
HITAC, which provides policy recommendations to HHS' Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, called the meeting of its full committee to discuss possible priorities for a new task force dedicated to COVID-19. Committee co-chairs said they'd set definitive charges for the task force and begin soliciting participation early next week.
"The task force will have some specific charges that we will put on based on your input here," said Dr. Robert Wah, co-chair of HITAC and former chief operating officer at the ONC.
The task force will likely tackle challenges related to data standards, interoperability, IT infrastructure and privacy, Wah said.
HITAC members during the meeting suggested the ONC leverage its role as a coordinator for health IT across agencies.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, that could involve the ONC working with the Office for Civil Rights to clarify guidance related to HIPAA and other privacy issues, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to track the spread of the disease, and the Federal Communications Commission to ensure that there's bandwidth for telemedicine, members suggested.
"We're seeing issues with cellular bandwidth across the city," said Aaron Miri, a member of HITAC and chief information officer at the Dell Medical School and UT Health Austin. "I believe there could be a partnership with the FCC to reserve bandwidth for all first-line responders and healthcare providers."
However, for projects managed by other federal agencies and outside of the ONC's authority, the ONC's role might be limited to sharing recommendations and offering to connect them with relevant resources.
"I think we really have to think about how we package suggestions to make them operational by the folks who have the operational charge in the field," said ONC chief Dr. Donald Rucker, noting the FCC and the Federal Emergency Management Agency already collaborate during emergencies. "We're not really in a position to set up a separate command structure."
Other suggestions discussed at the meeting included assessing tools like clinical decision support and admission, discharge and transfer feeds; figuring out how challenges with patient-matching are affecting data-sharing efforts, and addressing privacy concerns, particularly when it comes to research and sharing location data.
But members highlighted that the task force should be focused on immediate actions the ONC can take to address the COVID-19 outbreak, while longer-term goals could be integrated into other areas of the committee's work.
"It's a spectacular list, but it's a 2-3 year list," said Dr. Clem McDonald, member of HITAC and director of the Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications at the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Md., of the roster of possible tasks committee members suggested. "We have weeks and months to get this changed, so I think the focus should be strictly … moving fast to incur changes."
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