HHS Data Strategy Expands ONC’s Role

Dec. 14, 2023
Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology’s work to include the coordination of human services interoperability

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ updated data strategy for 2023 includes an expansion of the role of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) to include the coordination of human services interoperability in addition to its current role in enabling interoperability in the U.S. healthcare system.  

The HHS data strategy, the first published since 2018, notes that human services lags healthcare in the availability, interoperability, and electronic exchange of data, particularly at the point of care. "There is a need for more comprehensive data standards; freely available, standard taxonomies for human services provider information; better tools to manage consent, map household relationships, and perform matching and linkage; expanded provider onboarding; and aligned incentives and requirements to stimulate data flows,” the strategy document states. “Interoperability improvements would significantly enhance case management, coordinated care and service delivery, closed loop screening and referral with ‘warm handoffs’ between providers, expedited enrollment into benefits and service programs, and enable more efficient and equitable program design and delivery.”

HHS said that in light of the extensive health and public health common data standards development in recent decades and the need for cross-sector data sharing to deliver integrated services, human services data must become interoperable with health data, building from common data standards such as the U.S. Core Data for Interoperability (USCDI).

HHS said it would partner with standards-setting organizations to strategically develop human services standards, use cases, and tools that address the most critical gaps, including creating USCDI+ data set standards to support human services programs.

“Better integration of health care delivery and human services is critical to strengthening “whole-person” care, advancing health equity, and improving customer experience,” said Micky Tripathi, Ph.D., national coordinator for health information technology. “ONC has focused for many years on increasing patient-centered healthcare interoperability, and we are eager to support the HHS Data Strategy’s vision for human services interoperability.” 

ONC will develop, implement, and learn from state and community data sharing/data use pilots between health and human services, beginning with scaling established use cases that use existing standards, and expanding over time to test new standards and use cases.
Another stated goal is to create new data linkages across multiple data sources (i.e., administrative, service records, and electronic health records), including from federally funded institutions serving medically underserved populations, while addressing privacy, consent, and transparency concerns.

"This Data Strategy is a pivotal step forward in our commitment to utilizing data as a strategic asset to drive innovation and improve outcomes in health and human services," said HHS Deputy Secretary Andrea Palm, in a statement. "By harnessing the power of information and leveraging recent technological advancements, we're better equipped to meet the evolving needs of the people and communities we serve." 

Besides the work on connecting human services data, other priorities include cultivating data talent, fostering data sharing, integrating administrative data into program operations, and responsibly leveraging artificial intelligence. 

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