ONC Offers Two Interoperability Measures

Posted on July 14, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

For a while now, it’s been unclear how federal regulators would measure whether the U.S. healthcare system was moving toward the “widespread interoperability” MACRA requires. But the wait is over, and after reviewing a bunch of comments, ONC has come through with some proposals that seem fairly reasonable at first glance.

According to a new blog entry from ONC, the agency has gotten almost 100 comments on how to address interoperability. These recommendations, the agency concluded, fell into four broad categories:

  • Don’t create any significant new reporting burdens for providers
  • Broaden the scope of interoperability measurements to include providers and individuals that are not eligible for Medicare and Medicaid EHR incentives
  • Create measures that examine usage and usefulness of exchanged information, as well as the impact on health outcomes, in addition to measuring the exchange itself
  • Recognize that given the complexity of measuring interoperability, it will take multiple data sources, and that more discussions will be necessary to create an effective model for such measurements

In response, ONC has come up with two core measures which address not only the comments, but also its own analysis and MACRA’s specific definitions of “widespread interoperability.”

  • Measure #1: Proportion of healthcare providers electronically engaging in the following core domains of interoperable exchange of health information: sending; receiving; finding (querying); and integrating information received outside sources.
  • Measure #2: Proportion of healthcare providers who report using information electronically received through outside providers and sources for clinical decision-making.

To measure these activities, ONC expects to be able to draw on existing national surveys of hospitals and office-based physicians. These include the American Hospital Association’s AHA Information Technology Supplement Survey and the CDC National Center for Health Statistics’ annual National Electronic Health Record Survey of office-based physicians.

The reasons ONC would like to use these data sources include that they are not limited to Medicare and Medicaid EHR incentive program participants, and that both surveys have relatively high response rates.

I don’t know about you, but I was afraid things would be much worse. Measuring interoperability is quite difficult, given that just about everyone in the healthcare industry seems to have a slightly different take on what true interoperability actually is.

For example, there’s a fairly big gulf between those who feel interoperability only happens when all data flows from provider to provider, and those who feel that sharing a well-defined subset (such as that found in the Continuity of Care Document) would do the trick just fine. There is no way to address both of these models at the same time, much less the thousand shades of gray between the two extremes.

While its measures may not provide the final word on the subject, ONC has done a good job with the problem it was given, creating a model which is likely to be palatable to most of the parties involved. And that’s pretty unusual in the contentious world of health data interoperability. I hope the rollout goes equally well.