Interoperability gets a big win with Burwell's announcement at HIMSS16

Dive Brief:

  • On Monday at HIMSS16, HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell announced a major commitment among healthcare industry behemoths toward easing interoperability as well as EHR use.

  • Companies that provide 90% of EHRs used by US hospitals, including Epic and athenahealth, have committed to the cause of interoperability.
  • The agreement includes three main components: Consumer access, interoperability standards, and information-blocking prevention.

Dive Insight:

“We’re working to create a system that delivers better care, spends our dollars more wisely and supports healthcare [individuals]," Burwell said at the keynote presentation Monday. "We have a three-part strategy to make this transformation a reality."

Burwell noted the strategy includes a payment transformation for providers so "we pay for more quality of care instead of the quantity of service." In addition, the strategy seeks to unlock health data so "providers are better informed and patients are empowered to be active participants in their care" in addition to striving for better care delivery via greater integration and coordination.

"Healthcare data is the language patients use to tell the story of their health," Burwell stated. "Today, three-quarters of physicians are using them...There's almost a digital care footprint for everyone in our country. But we still have a lot of work to do."

"We must demand interoperability," Burwell stated.

With that in mind, the HHS secretary announced a commitment among major healthcare companies and organizations to support interoperability and speak the same language. The signees include hospitals, integrated healthcare organizations, medical groups and physician offices, academic facilities, long-term and behavioral healthcare settings, professional and advocacy organizations, and patients throughout the country. The three core components of the commitment include:

Consumer Access: This commitment is designed to help consumers easily and securely access their electronic health information, direct it to any desired location, learn how their information can be shared and used, and be assured that this information will be effectively and safely used to benefit their health and that of their community.

"It's great to have an electronic record, but if that record can't be accessed...then we aren't consisently seeing the benefit," Burwell stated.

No Information Blocking: The commitment intends to help providers share individuals’ health information for care with other providers and their patients whenever permitted by law, and not block electronic health information (defined as knowingly and unreasonably interfering with information sharing).

Standards: Under this commitment, providers would mplement federally recognized, national interoperability standards, policies, guidance, and practices for electronic health information and adopt best practices including those related to privacy and security.

"Without agreement on a common data alphabet, our technology is stuck speaking different languages," Burwell stated.

Included in the agreement are vendors, such as McKesson and Cerner, who provide 90% of hospital EHRs used nationwide. In addition, the top five largest private health systems in the nation and, in total, healthcare systems providing patient care in 46 states have signed on to the agreement. The full list can be found here.

“Patients and physicians are in this effort together because patients need easy access to their electronic health information, confident that it is secure and can be shared to benefit their health, and physicians need these electronic records to be interoperable to ensure that patients are receiving the best care possible, said AMA President Dr. Steven J. Stack in a news release. “Yet, physicians have trouble finding products that can help them achieve this. With so many vendors signing this pledge as well, we look forward to a marketplace where the promise of EHRs is finally fulfilled.”

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Filed Under: Health IT
Top image credit: Jeff Byers / Healthcare Dive