HIMSS15: Federal Health Officials 'Optimistic' About Future of Health IT

CHICAGO -- On the final day of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society's annual conference, National Coordinator for Health IT Karen DeSalvo and acting CMS Administrator Andy Slavitt took the stage to detail federal efforts to leverage health IT.

With recent changes to the meaningful use program, the health IT implications of a new law to repeal the sustainable growth rate formula and a new report on health information blocking, the record-breaking 43,129 attendees at HIMSS15 were eager to hear from the top health officials on the administration's health IT plans.

DeSalvo said, "I'm so optimistic about the bright future we have" in leveraging health IT to improve health.

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT had a "very busy year" that included a shift in strategic focus, two dozen listening sessions around the country and increased collaboration with states and other federal agencies, DeSalvo noted. She added that ONC "remain[s] steady and unwavering in the vision" that every American should have "access to their electronic health information when and where it matters."

DeSalvo said, "I am optimistic that together we can reach our vision."

Meanwhile, Slavitt said, "Our priority is simple. It is to [create] a delivery system that produces better care, smarter spending and keeps people healthier." Health IT will play a large role in achieving that goal, he said.

Slavitt outlined three technology-related goals for CMS:

  • Provider and patient benefit from technology investments;
  • Better technical infrastructure; and
  • Interoperability.

A Focus on Interoperability

Interoperability was a prominent theme in both DeSalvo's and Slavitt's remarks.  

Slavitt said he visited a federally qualified health center this week that has a great electronic health record system and impressive analytics capability. However, physicians there are unable to "follow patients across the continuum" because of the lack of interoperability.

He said, "This will not be acceptable to patients, will not be acceptable to providers, will not be acceptable to taxpayers and will not be acceptable to us."

DeSalvo stressed the importance of achieving "true interoperability, not just exchange."

She said that based on stakeholder feedback, "I'm optimistic that we've hit the mark in our interoperability plan."

To achieve interoperability in the U.S. health care system, DeSalvo said officials need to:

  • Standardize standards;
  • Provide clarity around the trust environment; and
  • Incentivize interoperability and health information exchange.

Referencing ONC's recent report on information blocking, Slavitt told the audience, "We'd like to hear about every example -- small, medium, large -- every example when somebody's getting in the way of interoperability." He added it's unacceptable when vendors, providers or others set up barriers to "willfully" block interoperability.

"It's not so much a matter of technology, but a matter of commitment," Slavitt said.

Congress' Recent Involvement in Health IT

Congress in recent months has shown increased interest in federal health IT efforts.

The Senate, for example, held hearings last month on interoperability and the meaningful use program. Next week, HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell is set to testify before the Senate Appropriations Committee, and experts expect her to face some tough health IT-related questions.

The House, meanwhile, has taken an interest in ICD-10, health IT regulation and military EHR sharing.

Some say lawmakers' increased focus on health IT stems from concerns about the administration's execution of health IT policy. 

Earlier this week at the conference, Health IT Now Executive Director Joel White said there's a "sense of buyers' remorse" in Congress over the meaningful use program. 

But DeSalvo had a much more positive spin. "Congress is our partner, and I'm so excited to see their interest," she said.

During a Q&A portion of the keynote presentation, DeSalvo said congressional pressure is "helpful and good because it makes us want to continue this march forward and to really step up the pace."

She added that there's been a good dialogue between ONC and Congress and that lawmakers are raising important questions.

DeSalvo concluded her remarks by saying, "It's the fourth quarter, and games are won and lost in the fourth quarter. We have a plan, and we're executing on the plan, but we know we can't do it alone," adding, "It's really important to us and the administration that we're partnering, that we're collaborating, that we're consulting and that we're listening."

Source: iHealthBeat, Friday, April 17, 2015

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