LAS VEGAS — With a new White House administration in early 2017, what do the federal government’s top health care officials hope to accomplish by time this calendar year closes?
“Make America great again,” Andy Slavitt, acting administrator of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services quipped, to a round of laughs, during a special session here at HIMSS16 Tuesday. In all seriousness, though, Slavitt believes much of the work he’s doing is strictly focused on making care better for the patient, and he doesn’t see why that should stop with the arrival of a new president in 2017. Karen DeSalvo, M.D., national coordinator for health information technology, agreed.
“The things we’re working on are not political in nature,” Slavitt told attendees. “They’re patient-centered. They maybe health care economics-centered, but they’re universal things — better care delivery for people — that will extend beyond the term of this administration. Our boss, [Health and Human Services] Secretary [Sylvia] Burwell, has no interest in having us work on things that will not continue.”
Much of the talk from the two federal health care officials centered around Monday’s big announcement that health care players across the field are committing to finally make interoperability — the ability of disparate health information systems to communicate with one another — a reality. DeSalvo pointed out that health care has made tremendous strides in the adoption of electronic health records, tripling their use since 2009. About three-quarters of physician practices and nearly every hospital in the nation are now using an EHR.
The hope is that all of those systems will finally begin communicating with one another. HHS wants to stop vendors from blocking access to information contained in a health record. To that end, HHS released a proposed new rule on Tuesday that would allow the agency to gauge how certified health IT offerings interact with other products — and revoke certification for those who aren’t compliant.
Three key areas are the focus of the new rule, according to a press release, including enabling the Office of the National Coordinator to directly review certified health IT products, enhancing its oversight of health IT testing bodies, and illuminating the performance of vendors. “Today’s proposed rule will help us ensure that health IT products and the health IT marketplace are continuing to meet the needs of the health care system,” DeSalvo said in the statement.
In a meeting that’s been packed with federal health IT news so far, ONC also announced on Tuesday that’s it’s launching a new challenge to IT developers, hoping to spur them to create user-friendly apps for both consumers and providers. It’s awarding prizes of $175,000 each to developers who can roll out innovative products for users on both sides of the health care equation.
DeSalvo believes that we’re on “the cusp” of seeing the interoperable health IT system that’s been talked about for years, and she hopes it will be a much different landscape when HIMSS17 in Orlando rolls around in February. Consumers are frustrated with their inability to freely access info across the health care delivery system, and it’s past time we listen to them, she believes.
“It’s the demand that I hear over and over again, when I’m in listening sessions or around the family table at the holidays,” she said. “They want to understand why all this data has been trapped in these silos. The president said it so well last week at the precision medicine event when he talked about that it was time to break down the silos and get consumers access to that data they really deserve, that is theirs, and that shares the story, not only of their health care, but of their health as a major part of their lives.”