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DeSalvo Aims to Get Feds Out Front on Health IT Interoperability

By John Reichard, CQ HealthBeat Editor

June 9, 2014 -- Fresh off a reorganization emphasizing "interoperability," federal health IT overseer Karen DeSalvo is now summoning a wide spectrum of feedback on how the government should best fulfill this goal of freely exchanging online medical data across the health care system.

It's an effort that naturally invites skepticism because health care purchasers and consumer groups are critical of a recent Department of Health and Human Services decision to delay the deadlines for regulations requiring interoperability that are linked to higher Medicare and Medicaid payments.

But DeSalvo, recently appointed to head the Office of National Coordinator for Health Information Technology at HHS, aims to get the government back out in front on the issue.

The "10 Year Vision to Achieve an Interoperable Health IT Infrastructure" her office released last week invites clinicians, consumers, hospitals, public health, technology developers, payers, researchers, policymakers and others to help develop "a defined, shared roadmap," she said.

"There is much work to do to see that every person and their care providers can get appropriate health information in an electronic format when and how they need it to make care convenient and well-coordinated and allow for improvements in overall health," DeSalvo said in a June 5 blog post. We have heard loudly and clearly that interoperability is a national priority."

DeSalvo wants to develop a shared agenda on five critical building blocks: core technical standards and functions; certification of products as interoperable; privacy and security of medical data; "supportive" business, clinical and regulatory environments, and the development of governance structures. The collaborative approach will establish three, six, and 10-year goals in each of the areas, she said.

To get everybody on board she'll have to convince critics that the slower regulatory move to interoperability will result in genuine gains in the efficiency and quality of care. And she'll have to persuade providers that they can't keep pushing for delays despite the technical hassles involved.

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