ONC Releases Finalized 2020-2025 Federal Health IT Strategic Plan

Published: November 12, 2020

Federal Market AnalysisAdministration TransitionCoronavirus (COVID-19) PandemicHHSHealth ITONC

At the end of October, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) within HHS released the final version of the Federal Health IT Strategic Plan for 2020-2025.

Now more than ever, federal agencies and the private sector need a plan to coordinate and guide efforts to capture and share health and medical data. The plan means to serve as a roadmap to drive priorities and coordinate efforts for improving the access, exchange, and use of electronic health information.

ONC released a draft form of the plan for public comment in January 2020, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, ONC and its federal partners designed the final version of the strategy in consideration of the vital role health IT and the use of electronic health information plays in responding to public health emergencies. ONC developed the final plan with input from more than 25 federal agencies and 100 public comments.

The plan states that the federal health IT vision is “a healthy system that uses information to engage individuals, lower costs, deliver high-quality care, and improve individual population health.” The mission of federal health IT is to “improve the health and well-being of individuals and communities using technology and health information that is accessible when and where it matters most.”  

The strategy focuses on the following health principles:

  • Focus on value
  • Put individuals first
  • Build a culture of secure access to health information
  • Put research into action
  • Encourage innovation and competition
  • Be a responsible steward

The plan lays out four overarching goals, each of which has several specified objectives and strategies for achieving them.  The overarching goals are to:

  • Promote health and wellness
  • Enhance the delivery and experience of care
  • Build a secure, data-driven ecosystem to accelerate research and innovation
  • Connect health care with health data

The plan supports providing electronic health information to patients via smartphone applications as envisioned by the 21st Century Cures Act. The focus of the strategy is to give patients more access to their data via APIs and smartphone applications.

This plan is intended to serve as a roadmap for federal health IT initiatives and activities, and as a catalyst for activities in the private sector. The strategic plan will be used to:

  • Prioritize resources
  • Align and coordinated efforts between agencies
  • Signal priorities to the private sector
  • Benchmark and assess progress toward a more interoperable, connected health system

The most prominent change in the plan from its draft form is the addition of “access to electronic health information” under the heading of healthcare challenges. The draft plan listed “access to technology” as a healthcare challenge and included providing access to health information to patients as part of this category.  The final plan breaks out access to electronic health information and expands on that category as a current challenge to healthcare.

Another addition to the final plan is information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and how it further emphasized the need to implement the principles of the federal health IT strategic plan. Under the plan’s section on opportunities in a digital health system, the pandemic was used as an example of why promoting new technologies is so important  The plan states, “Clinical researchers collecting data for studies and providers caring for patients adapted to the pandemic through health IT-enabled telehealth and remote engagement tools.”

Additionally, the Biden administration will likely embrace and promote health IT as an enabler for its plans to improve healthcare and access to care, as well as a means of fighting the pandemic.

ONC plans to communicate progress toward the plan in its Annual Update on the Adoption of a Nationwide System for the Electronic Use and Exchange of Health Information.