CHICAGO — In a word, it is all about interoperability. Appearing together for a keynote session at HIMSS15, ONC chief Karen DeSalvo, M.D., and CMS Acting Administrator Andy Slavitt made it clear that vendors, providers and the government need to pick up the pace on an issue that has vexed the industry for the past decade or more.

“It is the price to play,” Slavitt said. “The lack of interoperability is not acceptable to taxpayers, and it is not acceptable to us.”

DeSalvo noted that the ultimate goal isn’t just about data exchange, but rather creating “true interoperability.” In other words, making sure patient information gets to the right place and can be used effectively to improve care.

“Interoperability is central to the Triple Aim,” she said.

As we reported earlier this week, officials of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology intend to use various levers at their disposal to advance the cause.

“They want to push us and in some respects, we need them to,” Randy McCleese, vice president of IS and CIO at St. Claire Regional Medical Center, Morehead, Ky., told me after the keynote address. “We’ve been waiting for interoperability for 10 years. We need to move faster.”

McCleese said that DeSalvo has sought to expand ONC’s collaboration with providers and “she is listening.” He said that she has been understanding of the challenges providers face in implementing the technology needed to achieve meaningful use.

Increased demand from providers and heightened attention from regulators could propel vendors to accelerate efforts to solve the interoperability problem, McCleese suggested.

Slavitt also said that CMS wants to hear about every example — small, medium or large — of someone getting in the way of interoperability. ONC last week issued a report to Congress alleging that some vendors and providers are engaging in so-called information blocking.

Speaking more broadly, Slavitt said that it is time we started seeing what he called the “care dividend.” A lot of money has been spent on digitizing health care; what’s important now is seeing how that has resulted in better care for patients.

He also urged stakeholders to spend more time figuring out ways to build the technology infrastructure to support data exchange and new payment models.

“I think we can do with less innovation on shareables and wearables and more on infrastructure,” he said to a round of applause.