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Federal health IT officials outlined their top goals and priorities for the next five years with a big focus on pushing the industry to make more patients’ health data accessible through smartphone apps.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published Friday the final 2020-2025 Federal Health IT Strategic Plan (PDF). The plan is designed to align goals and help prioritize resources related to health IT and health data exchange across federal agencies. 

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) developed the road map in collaboration with more than 25 federal organizations and was informed by nearly 100 public comments.

“The new federal health IT strategic plan continues the momentum created by the 21st Century Cures Act and reflects the federal government’s commitment to making patients’ electronic health record (EHR) information accessible on their smartphones,” said Don Rucker, M.D, national coordinator for health IT. 

In today’s digital world, patients’ right to control their health must include the right to access and control their health information, Rucker wrote in the strategic plan.

The strategic plan outlines concrete steps federal partners can take to improve health through health IT. The goals, objectives and strategies within this plan highlight the importance not only of electronic health information, but also of the capabilities enabled by health IT including public health surveillance, telehealth and remote monitoring, Rucker wrote in the plan.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus has highlighted the importance of IT-enabled tools in supporting the healthcare infrastructure, he wrote.

The plan can serve as a road map for federal agencies’ initiatives and activities as well as a catalyst for complementary activities in the private sector, according to ONC.

The draft plan outlines four goals: promoting health and wellness, enhancing care delivery, building a data-driven ecosystem to accelerate research and innovation and better connecting healthcare services with health data.

The strategic plan matches up with two big data sharing rules finalized by HHS this year aimed at stopping information blocking and spurring data sharing.

Key health IT objectives outlined in the strategic plan include improving individual access to health information, advancing the use of evidence-based digital therapeutics and integrating health and human services information to help address social determinants of health (SDOH) at the individual and population levels. 

ONC is pushing for SDOH data to be captured and integrated into EHRs to assist in care processes as one strategy to address social determinants, according to the plan.

The plan also suggests broad strategies to support virtual care such as bolstering access to remote monitoring, surveillance software, telehealth and other IT-enabled mobile services and supporting the adoption of infrastructure needed for telehealth to reach patients outside traditional care settings.

Another strategic goal is to increase competition in the health IT market by reducing the financial and regulatory barriers that prevent new health IT developers from entering the space and making it easier to transmit health data from one health IT product to another.

To foster more trust and confidence in health IT, ONC’s plan pushes for safety and user-centered design principles to be used in the development of health IT to help ensure tools are safe, accessible, usable and address the needs of end users.

Another key objective is to use health IT to reduce the administrative and documentation burden on providers by simplifying and streamlining documentation, promoting the use of evidence-based automated tools and supporting the use of electronic provider-to-provider data exchange.

In a statement, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma said her agency and ONC have a shared federal vision to leverage health IT to reduce burden, promote the interoperable exchange of health information across the healthcare system, lower costs and ultimately improve patient care.

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