Health IT

ONC’s White: Good health data is essential to quality care, precision medicine

Dr. Jon White, deputy national coordinator in the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology has seen it all in health IT.

Dr. Jon White, deputy national coordinator in the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology has seen it all in health IT.

He joined the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality in 2004, eventually leading the agency’s health IT portfolio. That was right about the time President George W. Bush created ONC by executive order and when IT gained a prominent spot on the national healthcare agenda.

White was at AHRQ for 10 years before being detailed on half-time basis to ONC in October, then moving into his current, permanent role two months later. “It’s been a really exciting 10 years,” White said this week at MedCity ENGAGE in Bethesda, Md.

All along, he has been focused on generating and moving health data to where it’s supposed to be. “It’s really hard to [provide quality care] without good information,” White said.

“Healthcare is about information. Health is about information,” he explained. “Having the right information at the right place at the right time is really what it’s all about.”

White said many of ONC’s efforts over the years have been successful, citing “staggering” EHR adoption numbers, thanks to Meaningful Use Stage 1. “That’s been a real sea change,” he said. But providers have stumbled on Stage 2, which was supposed to be about interoperability.

“Now we need to get to a place where that information moves, it moves from provider to provider and moves from provider to you and moves from you to your provider and it gets to where it needs to get to,” White said.

He noted that interoperability work has ramped up at ONC in the short time he has been there. The office published a draft interoperability roadmap in January. ONC is now poring over the hundreds of public comments it received on the draft, and will soon update the document with a more specific timeline, White said.

“The ultimate goal of this isn’t just interoperability, but [a] ‘learning’ health system.”

Meantime, ONC released a scathing report on “information blocking” by certain, unnamed large EHR vendors, in response to a request from Congress. The office also has put out a draft advisory on interoperability standards. Comments have come in and the office is working on a final version, White said. The standards work will be ongoing, he added.

White described ONC’s relationship with Congress as fairly healthy.

“There has been significant engagement” between ONC and congressional staff. ONC has provided “technical assistance” on numerous issues, he said.

ONC and lawmakers have been collaborating particularly in the emerging area of precision medicine. Though the Precision Medicine Initiative is a project of the Obama administration, it seems to have bipartisan support. White said that Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, has been an enthusiastic supporter of the Precision Medicine Initiative.

White, a self-described “fanboy” of National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins, also said that EHR data is “ground zero” for precision medicine.