First-Hand Reflections on the HITAC Pharmacy Interoperability & Emerging Therapeutics Task Force

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Pharmacy illustration bottles_iStock-1346505072_circleLast month, we concluded our work on the HITAC Pharmacy Interoperability & Emerging Therapeutics Task Force.  In June, the task force embarked on a mission fueled by the recognition that while electronic prescribing has exemplified successful interoperability through standards, significant gaps persist in data exchange among pharmacy and other healthcare stakeholders and constituents managing individual care and medication therapy. As I reflect on my role as a member of this task force, it has been an enlightening journey and I have realized what a vital role this initiative plays in shaping the future of healthcare. This work is not just a task; it's a cornerstone for the future as we navigate the expanding role of pharmacies in healthcare and strive for enhanced coordination and interoperability across the entire care spectrum.

The ONC HITAC Pharmacy Interoperability & Emerging Therapeutics Task Force was entrusted with the critical mission of addressing persistent gaps in data exchange among pharmacy constituents. In response to the surge in pharmacy-based clinical services and the evolving role of pharmacists, the overarching charge was to identify recommendations that support interoperability between these constituents. This charge was rooted in the imperative need for seamless information exchange to optimize medication management, ensure patient safety, and enhance consumer engagement.

The urgency of improved coordination between pharmacists and prescribers is underscored by recent public health emergencies, emphasizing the need to ensure uninterrupted services without technology-induced delays. The task force acknowledged the challenges posed by innovations in medication therapies, creating a new frontier that demands fresh perspectives on prescribing and management. 

The specific charges outlined by ONC were comprehensive, reflecting the dynamic nature of healthcare and the evolving responsibilities within pharmacy practice. From short-term priorities like critical standards for emergency use interventions to long-term strategies for integrating pharmacy systems into public health surveillance, the task force was committed to charting a course that aligns with the evolving healthcare landscape.

Additionally, the task force identified opportunities to improve interoperability between various pharmacy constituents, including prescribers, pharmacists, payers, and more; extending the focus to addressing technology gaps, determining priority clinical use cases, and enhancing transparency in drug inventory—a critical consideration for both prescribers and consumers.
The charge also encompassed the identification of standards needed for the prescribing and management of emerging therapies, ranging from specialty medications to digital therapeutics and gene therapies. As the healthcare landscape continues to evolve, this forward-looking perspective will be crucial for maintaining effective patient care.

Lastly, the charge extended to direct-to-consumer medication services, where the task force identified policy and technology needs, contributing to a more patient-centric approach in the delivery of pharmaceutical services.

In summary, the ONC HITAC Pharmacy Interoperability & Emerging Therapeutics Task Force stands at the forefront of enhancing interoperability, and these varied charges reflect a holistic approach to advancing healthcare through the following informed and robust strategic recommendations:

  • Prioritize Data Sharing Use Cases: Focus on bi-directional data sharing among pharmacies, pharmacists, providers, and public health agencies. This prioritization aligns with the evolving role of pharmacists, ensuring equitable care and public health initiatives.
  • Enhance Standards for Collaboration: Engage standards development communities to bolster collaboration between pharmacies, providers, and public health, especially crucial during emergencies and routine care.

  • Integrate Pharmacy in Public Health Activities: Clarify Health IT capabilities to seamlessly integrate pharmacies/pharmacists into public health activities, a step beyond the ONC's scope.

These recommendations span diverse fronts, from technology gaps to policy needs to patient-centricity: 

  • Overcoming Obstacles Beyond Technology: Addressing barriers in data sharing, even beyond technological hindrances, to ensure pharmacist involvement in national data sharing infrastructure.

  • Advocating for Payers and Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs): Ensuring equitable access to pertinent data sources held by PBMs and payers for quality measure reporting under value-based payment models.

  • Empowering Direct-to-Consumer Services: Fostering patient-centric approaches through interoperable standards for data exchange among care team members during virtual care interactions.

There is an urgent need for a cohesive approach to data exchange, collaboration among entities, and incentives for driving interoperability. As strategic plans take shape, the burgeoning role of pharmacists emerges as a linchpin for fostering enhanced care, community health, and optimized healthcare delivery. Integrating pharmacists into these plans holds the promise of forging stronger alliances and leveraging technology to ensure that all providers can operate at the top of their licenses and patients continue to be the center of care. You can find the full recommendations report here: https://www.healthit.gov/sites/default/files/facas/2023-11-09_PhIET_TF_2023_Recommendations_Report_508.pdf 

If your organization needs help understanding how to best leverage the growing areas of opportunity for improved data exchange across care settings to include pharmacy or how pharmacy can play a role in health equity strategies, reach out to me at pooja.babbrah@pocp.com to set up a meeting. While every organization’s needs are unique, I can safely say if your current strategic roadmap doesn’t consider pharmacy clinical services, it would be a missed opportunity.