HHS Focuses on Flexibility in New Health IT Plan

Alex Brandon/AP

HHS' final Federal Health IT Strategic Plan leaves room for the unknown, according to health IT chief Karen DeSalvo.

The Department of Health and Human Services doesn’t know exactly what technology or even health care will look like in 2020, so fittingly the agency's new 5-year health IT strategic plan is centered on flexibility.

On Monday, the agency released its final Federal Health IT Strategic Plan for 2015-2020, which is meant to boost everything from health IT infrastructure to community health. The report lays out the federal government’s current vision for health IT and key future efforts important for the future.

Health IT is quickly transforming. Four years ago, when HHS released its previous plan, the Affordable Care Act was in its early stages and mobile health applications were still in their infancy.

“During the past decade's information age, innovation and technological advancements have been difficult to predict,” said Karen DeSalvo, national coordinator for Health Information Technology, in a letter accompanying the report. “This plan aims to remain flexible to evolving definitions of health, health care and the technology developments that support them."

The plan is based on some 400 public comments and recommendations from the Health IT Policy Committee.

Here are some of the key federal initiatives the plan highlighted as beneficial for federal health IT infrastructure modernization:

Sentinel Initiative: the Food and Drug Administration’s 7-year-old strategy for tracking the negative effects of its regulated products is now working on a nationwide electronic system.

Defense Healthcare Management System Modernization Program: the massive Defense Department effort to upgrade to an electronic health record system.

The Shared Nationwide Interoperability Roadmap: a planning document with information for all health-related stakeholders on how to create a more interoperable health IT ecosystem.

Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity: a 2013 executive order for the National Institute of Standards and technology to launch a voluntary program to reduce cyber risks related to such critical infrastructure as health IT.

The ONC HIT Certification Program: meant to boost interoperability by helping purchasers and users know if a system meets technology and security standards. HHS still wants to see some improvements.