ONC to set data standards with CMS, CDC through interoperability program

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The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology on Friday launched a new effort to support federal agencies in standardizing data.

The new initiative, dubbed USCDI+, builds on the U.S. Core Data for Interoperability, a standardized set of data elements developed by ONC.

USCDI+ will set standards that can be helpful for federal agencies who have domain- or program-specific needs, but that ONC doesn’t think need to be included in the core USCDI.

ONC will start work on USCDI+ with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to align standards for quality measurement and public health.

ONC launched USCDI+ in part to regulate how quickly USCDI should expand. Electronic health record companies and other software developers will be required to use data elements included in USCDI to get certified in ONC’s health IT certification program, as directed by the ONC’s data-sharing rule.

“There’s a tension in managing USCDI growth,” reads a blog post that ONC officials published Friday. “We need to be judicious about what and how much to add in any given year because of the USCDI’s broad applicability to certified EHRs, interoperability transactions and its potential effect on user experience and workflow.”

Still, ONC officials said coordinating data standards across federal agencies, rather than having agencies tackle that on their own, will help to align similar standards when relevant.

Micky Tripathi, ONC’s chief, has previously called attention to lack of common platforms in the public health sector—as well as how public health IT systems don’t integrate easily with EHRs used at hospitals. That’s partially due to lack of investment into public health IT systems and standards, he said.

Having consistent data standards across federal programs can also support industry, which will have a better idea of what standards to use when working with federal agencies, according to the agency. ONC officials said they’ll collaborate with federal agencies, as well as healthcare providers and health IT companies, as they develop standards.

In the future, the USCDI+ effort could expand into creating certification criteria for software products, according to an ONC website.

USCDI+ will operate similar to USCDI, but with additional considerations, like identifying agency incentives or requirements to use specific USCDI+ datasets.

For the main USCDI standards, ONC solicits public feedback for updates and selects new data elements for inclusion based on a review of “impact, feasibility and standards maturity,” according to the agency’s blog post. The agency in July published the second version of USCDI, which incorporated new standards for sexual orientation and gender identity data.