June 22, 2022

Harnessing the Power of Data and Technology to Improve Public Health

Health information technology (health IT) has played an evolving role in the U.S. health care system—from early documentation of medical records to the standardization and sharing of those records to capturing broad swaths of data on patient care. Health IT gained greater prominence in 2004, when President Bush established the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) and created the position of a National Health Information Technology Coordinator through an Executive Order. Both were codified in 2009 through the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

ONC is “the principal federal entity charged with coordination of nationwide efforts to implement and use the most advanced health IT and the electronic exchange of health information.” Its mission is to improve the health and well-being of individuals and communities through the use of technology and health information that is accessible when and where it matters most.

On June 1, 2022, three members of the ONC team— Ryan Argentieri, MBA, Deputy Director, Office of Technology; Elisabeth Myers, MBA, Deputy Director, Office of Policy; and Kiri Bagley, MD, MPH, AAAS Science & Technology Fellow—presented to the Society for Women’s Health Research Policy Advisory Council about how ONC’s work is contributing to the advancement of women’s health, where they see areas of opportunity moving forward, and how stakeholders can engage with ONC throughout the year.

Some of the high-level programs and initiatives on which ONC is focusing its attention include the following:

Over the course of the conversation, the team at ONC identified several areas of need and opportunity within women’s health and maternal health related to health IT. These include the importance of information linkage and longevity (e.g., connecting maternity information, family history/hereditary information, and between various health care providers and institutions); accessibility in information exchange (e.g., mitigating funding and expenses required for linking all of the information, accessibility to the technical infrastructure required for interoperability); and health equity (e.g., addressing the disparities in maternal health care, access, and outcomes, a need for education about equity concerns and bias that exists within the health care system, and a need for care coordination among health care providers seeing the same patient).

In terms of ways to engage with ONC, the team recommended joining ONC’s various Listening Sessions and engaging with the Office’s federal advisory committee, the Health Information Technology Advisory Committee (HITAC). The HITAC is the committee HHS uses to review health IT standards and the committee that sets HHS’s for interoperability and standards use cases. That committee holds monthly meetings and includes a public comment section, which ONC commented was an important outlet for engagement. The team also expressed interest in having “deep dives” and one-on-one conversations on USCDI+ with groups and associations to understand how they’re approaching public health, quality, and health equity data.

To learn more about ONC and its work, please visit https://www.healthit.gov/.