ONC head Dr. Don Rucker says agency wants patients to manage their health with smartphone apps

National Coordinator for Health IT Don Rucker, MD, advocated for the use of open application programming interfaces to provide patients with control over their healthcare data in an April 24 ONC blog post.

Interoperability has been one of the ONC's top priorities since Dr. Rucker joined the agency under the Trump administration. For Dr. Rucker, interoperability doesn't just describe data sharing between providers, but also between providers and patients.

"ONC's interoperability efforts focus on improving individuals' ability to control their health information so they can shop for and coordinate their own care," he wrote in the blog post.

A key barrier to this vision is the fragmented nature of healthcare, according to Dr. Rucker. If a patient sees multiple physicians across various hospitals, its likely he or she will have to use separate patient portals to access their medical information.

"In the end, these steps make it hard for patients to aggregate their information across care settings and prevent them from being empowered consumers," Dr. Rucker wrote.

To address the issue, Dr. Rucker proposed using open APIs to facilitate data exchange between multiple apps.

Under the ONC's 2015 edition health IT product criteria, which the agency uses to certify EHR software, vendors must demonstrate their products provide application access to patient data via an API. Dr. Rucker wrote the ONC plans to expand these requirements in late 2018.

Dr. Rucker emphasized the ONC is also working with health IT "innovators" to "support the use of mobile apps to help individuals manage their own health or the health and care of a loved one."

As an example, he suggested developing general healthcare apps to help consumers view quality indicators and costs associated with their care at various facilities, along with disease-specific apps that enable patients to share their medical data with researchers studying new therapies in clinical trials.

"Ensuring that APIs in the health ecosystem are standardized, transparent and pro-competitive are the central principles guiding our work," he wrote. "These goals should allow new business models and tools that will expand the transparency of all aspects of healthcare."

To access Dr. Rucker's blog post, click here.

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