HHS' Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology has made another move toward its vision of allowing patients to be able to download their own electronic health data using smartphone apps.
HHS on Wednesday released a draft of a five-year road map designed to align health information technology goals across federal agencies. The plan, which the ONC developed with input from more than two dozen other agencies, outlines strategies for the federal government to leverage technology to make it easier for patients and providers to electronically access health data.
Much of the road map focuses on allowing patients, providers and researchers to share data through application programming interfaces, the technology that underpins data exchange with various types of software, such as apps. That mirrors a core component of the ONC's proposed information-blocking rule, which has yet to be finalized.
The goals outlined in the draft plan are "supportive of the API-app economy that puts information in the hands of patients," Elise Anthony, the ONC's executive director of policy, said during a monthly meeting of the Health Information Technology Advisory Committee on Wednesday. HITAC, established under the 21st Century Cures Act, provides policy recommendations to the ONC.
That vision of letting patients download their data using apps has proved controversial, as provider groups voice concern that developers of health apps aren't held to the same privacy standards as providers and payers.
By providing a common road map to federal agencies involved with regulating, purchasing and developing health IT tools, the ONC said it hopes to help those groups prioritize resources and assess progress on work to improve healthcare interoperability—one of the ONC's mandates under the 21st Century Cures Act.
"Syncing up within the federal government is a challenge of its own, as with any large organization," ONC chief Dr. Donald Rucker said during HITAC's meeting.
The draft plan outlines four goals: promoting health and wellness; enhancing care delivery; building a data-driven ecosystem to accelerate research and innovation; and connecting health data through an interoperable health IT infrastructure.
While the plan includes objectives and strategies, it doesn't get into the mechanics of particular steps or programs to reach those goals.
"It's a tool to document what we want, why we want it and who benefits," said Peter Karras, the ONC's lead on the road map, at the meeting.
The ONC's plan suggests strategies like letting patients access their health data via secure apps and encouraging "pro-competitive" business practices that allow patients to choose between apps. Other strategies included in the plan involve reducing financial barriers for new developers interested in entering the health IT market and promoting trustworthiness of health IT tools through "rigorous enforcement" of information-blocking, privacy and security laws.
While the road map focuses on strategies for federal agencies, the ONC said it hopes release of the final plan will serve as a signal of the government's priorities on interoperability and act as a "catalyst for activities in the private sector," according to a blog post ONC officials posted Wednesday announcing the new draft plan.
The public comment period for the draft plan closes March 18. The ONC plans to publish its final version of the federal health IT strategic plan this summer.