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ONC Outlines Health IT Interoperability Progress in Report to Congress

Health IT interoperability has grown significantly in the past decade, with 96 percent of hospitals using ONC-certified EHRs in 2021 compared to 28 percent in 2011.

A new ONC report to Congress outlines the significant impact of the 21st Century Cures Act on health IT interoperability.

As of 2021, nearly all non-federal acute care hospitals (96 percent) and 4 in 5 office-based physicians have adopted health IT certified under the ONC Health IT Certification Program. In 2011, just 28 percent of hospitals and 34 percent of physicians had adopted an EHR.

Patient access to personal health information through electronic portals also continues to grow. Among individuals offered a patient portal, more than six in 10 accessed it at least once in 2020, representing an 11-percentage point increase from 2017.

Additionally, the report noted that the healthcare industry has made significant progress toward interoperability through health information exchange (HIE) networks, with numerous HIEs operating at the national and state level. Nearly two-thirds of clinicians engaged in HIE with providers outside their organization in 2021.

However, additional steps are needed to advance network-to-network exchange. The Trusted Exchange Framework and Common Agreement (TEFCA) seeks to create a policy and technical infrastructure that builds on the existing progress of HIEs. TEFCA also aims to create an operational framework to enable secure information sharing across the boundaries of networks or health IT systems.  

ONC recently designated six HIEs as candidates for qualified health information networks (QHINs) under TEFCA.

“HHS thanks Congress for the vision, passage of, and continued commitment to the Cures Act,” the ONC officials noted in the report. “HHS recommends continued and full Congressional support for the implementation of the health IT provisions in the Cures Act.”

ONC gave six recommendations to Congress to continue to improve healthcare interoperability by supporting ONC efforts to:

  • Support “health equity by design” to include equitable access to information and improve health outcomes by integrating equity into the design of health IT.
  • Coordinate with CDC and other HHS agencies so that federal and state, tribal, local, and territorial (STLT) public health data systems leverage health IT standards for the collection, access, exchange, use, and reporting of public health data.
  • Educate patients and the care community about information blocking policy and regulations and coordinate with the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) on information blocking enforcement.
  • Implement TEFCA to create a national policy and technical infrastructure to improve HIE across networks.
  • Advance data standards to support health information sharing across the care continuum through certified health IT.
  • Coordinate with federal agencies to ensure ONC-adopted data standards support health information access, exchange, and use across federal programs and health IT platforms.

“HHS, in collaboration with federal partners, will continue progress on actions that advance the 2020-2025 Federal Health IT Strategic Plan,” ONC officials wrote. “These efforts aim to improve the health and well-being of individuals and communities using technology and health information that is accessible when and where it matters most.”

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