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E Pluribus Unum

Micky Tripathi and Steven Posnack | August 5, 2022

As our nation transitions to a digital healthcare system, our stakeholders are discovering new opportunities for using health information technology to advance health care delivery, public health, and research to improve people’s lives. The federal government is no exception in this regard; agencies across the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) are beginning to leverage the data and capabilities available through electronic health records for a broad range of federal activities and programs, including product safety and surveillance, real world data and real world evidence for regulatory approvals, research, pandemic response, and social service integration, to name just a few.

While this is an exciting development for HHS overall, it does call for more proactive alignment and coordination of health IT activities across the department to ensure that we are operating as efficiently and cohesively as possible. To that end, Secretary Becerra has put into place a department-wide management policy directing ONC to engage with HHS agencies to align and coordinate health IT-related activities in support of HHS health IT and interoperability goals. Specifically, the secretary has directed ONC to establish and oversee a consistent HHS-wide approach for: 1) incorporating standard health IT requirements language in all applicable HHS funding programs, contracts, and policies; and 2) providing direct ONC assistance to HHS agencies to maximize the use of HHS-approved standards and authorities (such as Section 3004 of the Public Health Service Act) in their agency programs.

While it won’t happen overnight, what we expect to see over time is greater consistency in health IT-based activities across HHS, which should result in lower cost and higher effectiveness agency programs, more sharing of data and health IT infrastructure across programs and agencies, and lower burden on health care providers, technology developers, and other stakeholders who engage with multiple HHS agencies. Maximizing federal use of open-industry, non-proprietary, scalable standards and approaches – such as the US Core Data for Interoperability (USCDI) and FHIR APIs as called for by the 21st Century Cures Act – will multiply the impact of the department’s regulations and purchasing power to reinforce HHS health IT and interoperability goals. It will also directly support key Biden-Harris Administration  priorities in health equity, federal customer experience and service delivery, and promoting competition. ONC already works collaboratively with our federal agency partners, and we are excited to be able to better support our sister HHS agencies and ensure that HHS is more than the sum of its parts.