Our Next Chapter for Standards and Technology: Introducing the ONC Tech Lab

Steven Posnack | February 23, 2016

The health IT landscape has changed considerably since the HITECH Act. The Nationwide Interoperability Roadmap is now front and center and we’re in a period of transition prompted by MACRA. We have also seen exciting and impactful industry work take shape like the development of HL7® FHIR® and the Argonaut Project. To continue to ensure that our work is aligned and connected to these changes, we will be working with you to adapt and evolve ONC’s standards and technology work processes.

That’s why we are introducing the “ONC Tech Lab.” The ONC Tech Lab represents the way in which we will organize and approach the type of work we do. It stands for the core values that we will execute toward day in and day out. In concert with the ONC Health IT Certification Program, we believe this principled approach will provide internal and external stakeholders with common connection points to ONC’s standards and technology efforts. This transition lays the operational groundwork within ONC necessary to implement the Interoperability Roadmap and ties directly to our near-term health IT strategy and, ultimately, the long-term vision included in the Federal Health IT Strategic Plan.

We will be using the ONC Tech Lab’s organizing structure to help us focus on what we can uniquely contribute to improve existing standards and build consensus around those that best serve specific interoperability needs – as we recently outlined in the 2016 Interoperability Standards Advisory. This means working directly with standards development organizations (SDOs) through their processes, partnering with stakeholders industry-wide to shorten feedback loops, and pilot testing to gain evidence about what can scale. In the end, we want to see standards in use that have been rigorously tested and consistently implemented.

Specifically, the ONC Tech Lab will be organized around and focus on the following four areas:

  1. Standards Coordination: In this area, we’ll be focusing on interactions with SDOs and industry stakeholders to identify standards gaps and where more clarity or reduced optionality is needed. Additionally, we’ll be looking to connect new program, policy, and business requirements to technical standards and infrastructure needs.
  2. Testing and Utilities: This area will include collaborative work on testing tools, including those in support of the ONC Health IT Certification Program and the Standards Implementation & Testing Environment, utilities for health IT developers and providers to test their health IT functionality in the field, and coordination with industry sector stakeholders on the development of additional testing resources and testing events.
  3. Pilots: For this focus area, we will support implementation pilots for standards (especially those identified in the Interoperability Standards Advisory) and look to stimulate cooperation and creativity among the active pilot community that exists nationwide in a way that brings greater visibility to all of the inspiring interoperability projects taking place.
  4. Innovation: In this area, we’ll continue our work with start-up communities, on administering challenge contests, and on forward looking standards and technology activities that can bring a glimpse of the future to the present.

As we look to the future, it’s important to recognize the success of past efforts and how this new approach affects current activities. The Standards and Interoperability Framework (S&I Framework), kicked-off over five years ago, served as the forum that developed Direct (and associated specifications), helped accelerate the creation of the Consolidated CDA, and created a new suite of laboratory data exchange implementation guides (among many other initiatives). The S&I Framework’s operations will conclude and wind down over the coming months as we move to this next phase of our interoperability work. For continuity purposes, the relevant activities of any remaining ONC-supported “S&I Framework initiatives” will be completed under an ONC Tech Lab focus area.

Working together, we have made significant progress the past few years. Yet, we all know there is more work to do. With the ONC Tech Lab helping to focus our work, we plan to be your partner in shaping the future.

This blog post will be followed by a 4-part series that describes the work we’ve got lined up in each of the ONC Tech Lab’s focus areas. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post and others over the next several weeks.