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Group's letter challenges ONC's timeline for nationwide interoperability

Healthcare professionals and groups noticed the signs that the the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) is shifting its focus from the meaningful use program to health data interoperability. Now, many of those groups are questioning why ONC designated 2024 as the year by which nationwide interoperability can be achieved.

In a letter addressed to Karen DeSalvo, M.D, national coordinator for health IT, the board chair of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), Robert Wergin, M.D., expressed the group’s concern with the path of ONC’s recently-finalized Shared Nationwide Interoperability Roadmap.

The AAFP letter called on ONC to delay meaningful use and asked ONC to dedicate more of its energy to promote national interoperability, something AAFP believes can be achieved this decade — by 2019. The letter’s firm message is summed up in one sentence: “We do not have until 2024 to improve interoperability.” ONC must show more urgency in guiding healthcare technology vendors, health systems, physicians and others to cooperate for the sake of healthcare interoperability, the AAFP asserted.

The ONC’s distant interoperability end date could be due to several agency officials departing the office in the last year-plus. DeSalvo could be next after her nomination as assistant secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Those personnel moves and recent downsizing of the meaningful use program have kept ONC busy working on tasks unrelated to interoperability.

From 2015 to 2017, eligible professionals will only have to satisfy 10 meaningful use objectives. That number was cut from the previous total of 18 as part of recent changes made by ONC and CMS. Critical access and eligible hospitals were also cut a break. Those facilities, originally expected to meet 20 meaningful use objectives during that period, will now only be required to meet nine. Those changes weren’t totally unexpected because ONC hinted at its 2015 annual meeting that it was pleased with the adoption level of EHR systems and that it was zoned in on nationwide interoperability.