ONC Report Acknowledges Interoperability Struggles, Barriers

Despite progress being made, health information technology interoperability remains a struggle, according to a report submitted by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology and HHS to Congress.

Despite progress being made, health information technology interoperability remains a struggle, according to a report submitted by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) and HHS to Congress.

The annual report revealed that although 59% of hospitals and 48% of physicians have adopted basic electronic health records (EHRs), just 14% of physicians electronically share patient health information with outside providers. Hospitals are doing better with 6 in 10 reporting they share data with outside providers.

“Despite progress in establishing standards and services to support health information exchange and interoperability, practice patterns have not changed to the point that health care providers share patient health information electronically across organizational, vendor, and geographic boundaries,” according to the report.

According to the report, HHS intends to advance health information exchange with new regulations and guidance that will enable a patient’s health information to follow them wherever they access care, as well as working with stakeholders to develop an interoperability roadmap.

“Once interoperable, health data and health IT systems provide a platform for accelerated improvements in the health care system; improvements that will put data to better use by making it available at the right time, to the right people, and in the right format,” the authors wrote in the report.

ONC pointed to insufficient standardization of electronic health information as one of the main barriers to interoperability. Furthermore, the report acknowledged that for providers who are not eligible for incentive payments, such as log-term care, post-acute care, and behavioral health settings, health IT adoption remains a low priority.

ONC and HHS are hoping that Stage 2 of the EHR Incentive Program will promote the exchange of clinical information across organizations and developer platforms. As of June 2014, more than 403,000 professionals and more than 4,500 hospitals, representing 92% of eligible hospitals had received incentive payments.

Incentives and payment adjustments have a large impact on a physician’s decision to adopt an EHR, according to ONC. In 2011, a survey found that 71% of non-adopters said proposed financial penalties or payments under the EHR Incentive Programs would be a major influence on the decision to adopt or not.