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Verma Paints Future of Idyllic Interoperability That Is Far From Today's Reality

Laura Joszt
If patients want to be empowered to control their healthcare and if the United States wants healthcare to be economically efficient, then interoperability is critical, said Don Rucker, MD, the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (IT), during the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT’s 2nd Interoperability Forum. He was followed by CMS Administrator Seema Verma, who disparaged the current technological situation and painted a future where health data followed the patient and can be shared at the press of a button.
Interoperability may be at the heart of modern healthcare, but it remains very hard to do, emphasized Don Rucker, MD, the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (IT), during the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) for Health IT’s 2nd Interoperability Forum.

If patients want to be empowered to control their healthcare, and if the United States wants healthcare to be economically efficient, then interoperability is critical, he said, adding that the White House is “all in” on making interoperability work.

“It is very hard, organizationally,” Rucker said. “We've built up, over the last 50 years since the start of Medicare, a uniquely American way of payment, a uniquely American delivery system, and with a very unusual footprint. So, we now have to figure out how to connect all of those things.”

Rucker was followed by CMS Administrator Seema Verma, who highlighted how CMS and ONC are working together to realize a healthcare system where data flows easily and patient care is transformed.

She expressed her disbelief that the United States could lead the work in advancements in medical technology with things like precision medicine and 3D training tools, and yet healthcare IT remains far behind other major industries.

“Despite the best efforts of innovators … healthcare providers are in a 1990s time warp, where doctors are faxing patient records and medical staff are manually entering results into [electronic health records] and hospitals are handing out data on CD-ROMs,” Verma said.

She added that one of her missions was to “make every doctor’s office fax free by 2020.” The problem is that the current US healthcare is one in with systems speaking different languages, information not being shared, and patients and providers who don’t have access to the data they need to make the best healthcare decisions.

Verma painted a future that CMS is trying to create where health data follows the individual and can be shared with a doctor at the push of a button, and where medical decisions are fully informed by a patient’s medical history. A health system that collects information from every health visit, claims data, and the health information gathered by wearable technology.

“The reality is that once information is freely flowing from the patient to the provider, the advances and coordinated value-based and patient-centric care will be even greater than anything we can imagine today,” she said.

Her mission is to make that happen by breaking down barriers to interoperability to create a one-stop shop for health data. Verma also highlighted initiatives in place that CMS is using to create that future, such as MyHealthEData, which will give patients control of their healthcare data, so they can decide how it is used. The administration is also promoting the use of open application programming interfaces (APIs), which will allow for greater sharing of data. Under the MyHealthEData initiative, CMS has also created a new position: chief health informatics officer. The position is not yet filled, but the individual who holds it will be responsible for accelerating the pace of innovation in health IT.

Verma added that CMS will be releasing policies to move insurers down a path that will break down siloes and incentivize interoperability through new payment models. She noted that often, patients are led to believe that for the sake of security their data cannot be shared with other providers, but the reality is different.

“Systems too often refuse to share data because they fear their patients will be poached,” Verma said. “This mentality has to be changed, because it endangers the health of millions of Americans. We can keep patient data private and safe and secure, while also making it available to patients, working on the leading edge of innovations that can transform American medicine.”

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