Leveraging the Best Available Standards for Today, Tomorrow and the Future

Many of us share the same goal. That all individuals, our families and our healthcare providers are able to send, receive, find and use electronic health information in a manner that is appropriate, secure, timely and reliable. Realizing this goal will support the health and wellness of individuals through an informed, shared decision-making model. Yet, I imagine that gaining access to your own health information today is no easier for you than it is for me.

Multiple efforts, some collaborative, some competing, have long been underway to advance the goal of interoperability, but those efforts have not, until now, provided us with clear guidance on what are the “best available” standards and implementation specifications to use. Fortunately, 2016 marks the year that we’ve received that guidance, thanks to the recently published 2016 Interoperability Standards Advisory.

The 2016 Advisory represents feedback from public comment on the 2015 Interoperability Standards Advisory, as well as recommendations from the HIT Standards Committee. The Advisory is designed to create a common ground that covers clinical health IT interoperability. And with this new publication, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) took a non-regulatory, straight-forward approach, including an interactive, predictable process for updates.

The goal of the 2016 Interoperability Standards Advisory is:

  • To provide a single, public list of the best available standards and implementation specifications which include: SNOMED-CT, LOINC, HL7 and IHE
  • To reflect results of on-going dialogue, debate, and consensus
  • To document known limitations, preconditions, and dependencies among referenced standards and implementation specifications, and
  • To enable a “look first” philosophy for government programs, procurements, testing or certification programs, standards development, etc.

This guidance on which standards to use to achieve interoperable systems is a significant contribution to the industry - so what should be our response? I would suggest that now it’s our job to implement them. Fortunately, there are a number of resources available to help us get started.

One opportunity at the end of this month is the educational programs that are a new focus of the IHE North American Connectathon Week on January 25-29 at the Cleveland Convention Center and HIMSS Innovation Center. We have hosted IHE Connectathons for vendor product testing for over 15 years, but 2016 is the first year the event will include a full week of testing, training, education, interoperability certification awards, and networking events for attendees with different levels and backgrounds. Participants will learn how health information exchange capabilities can be made possible in their own environment, learning from the experts that have already achieved such success.

The IHE Connectathon Leadership Conference will kick off with a keynote session by Michael J. McCoy, MD, FACOG, Chief Health Information Officer for ONC, sharing his insights on how to navigate the Interoperability Roadmap ahead. I hope to see you there so that we can continue our work together to build an interoperable health IT ecosystem that makes the right electronic health information available to the right people at the right time.

HIMSSInteroperability and StandardsIHE USA