ONC Annual Meeting Focuses on Patient Access to Health Records

January 30, 2020
Policy Snapshot

Hundreds of policy makers, thought leaders, vendors, and other stakeholders interested in the future direction of the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) for Health IT gathered last week in Washington, DC, for the ONC Annual Meeting. The meeting, attended by Society staff, featured keynote speeches by Department Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar; ONC National Coordinator Don Rucker, MD; and other leaders in the health IT space.

It was clear from the theme of the conference, Connecting Policy and Technology: Bringing the EHR to the Patient, that patient access was going to be a big topic of discussion. Much of the discussion centered around the portability and usability of health records by patients and health care providers. “We need not just digitized records, but records that are transportable and interoperable—that can be easily accessed and used in different forms,” stated Secretary Azar. Discussions raised concerns about privacy and security of such records, but most had a positive outlook on the future of health IT. Dr. Rucker stated, “There should be an app economy and the entrepreneurial juices of the country should be allowed to be unleashed in health care to give patients a choice."

The meeting came on the heels of a federal strategy document from ONC released last month that outlined the agency’s plan to advance health IT over the next five years. The plan is currently under public comment period. Generally, it outlines four specific goals: 1) promote health and wellness; 2) enhance the delivery and experience of care; 3) build a secure, data-driven ecosystem to accelerate research and innovation; and 4) connect health care and health data through an interoperable health IT infrastructure.

While attending the meeting, Society staff noted the special challenges the post-acute and long-term care (PALTC) sector has in catching up with the rest of the health care ecosystem in adopting technology that can freely share information with other settings and patients. Likewise, Society staff pointed out that when discussing patient access in PALTC, it is important to note the role family members and caregivers play in patient care. Thus, it is not enough to simply talk about patient access but rather access by the patient’s care team, whether that be a family member or a clinician.

Subsequent to the meeting, the Society participated in a day-long strategy session with other stakeholders as part of the LTPAC HIT Collaborative to debrief the ONC meeting and discuss policy priorities necessary to advance adoption and usability of health IT in the PALTC sector. The collaborative will review the plan and submit comments as appropriate.