ONC Releases 2018 HITECH Report

Noam H. Arzt, Ph.D.In early January the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) issued its annual report to Congress for 2018 on the adoption of electronic health records (EHR) and interoperability. This report is required under the HITECH Act and is further informed by requirements of the later 21st Century Cures Act.

There was actually very little to comment about in this report, and it felt more like ONC was "going through the motions." There were a few (actually, very few) updated statistics about technology use, a short discussion about the importance of open Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), and a useful but not terribly new list of initiatives and reports issued by ONC over the past year or two. I spotted one or two things in there that I had not recalled seeing before but nothing terribly important.

One thing that I think is notable was a short discussion about barriers to interoperability that we have heard before. The report identifies three types: technical barriers, financial barriers, and trust barriers. Within trust barriers the report mentions legal incentives to keep data from moving (I guess that would have better been phrased as legal disincentives to sharing), but this misses the point: It is the patchwork of inconsistent and incompatible State and local laws and regulations - not intentional information blocking - that presents a bigger challenge and barrier. These can be laws prohibiting movement of certain health data across state lines, incompatible consent requirements, or restrictions on "downstream" use of data that is shared. Until these legal barriers are addressed separately from trust issues interoperability will be hampered.