HHS Releases Data and Tools to Increase Transparency On Hospital Utilization at Health Datapalooza

With more than 2,000 entrepreneurs, investors, data scientists, researchers, policy experts, government employees and more in attendance, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is releasing new data and launching new initiatives at the annual Health Datapalooza conference in Washington, D.C.

Today, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is releasing its first annual update to the Medicare hospital charge data, or information comparing the average amount a hospital bills for services that may be provided in connection with a similar inpatient stay or outpatient visit. CMS is also releasing a suite of other data products and tools aimed to increase transparency about Medicare payments. The data trove on CMS’s website now includes inpatient and outpatient hospital charge data for 2012, and new interactive dashboards for the CMS Chronic Conditions Data Warehouse and geographic variation data. Also today, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will launch a new open data initiative. And before the end of the conference, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) will announce the winners of two data challenges.

“The release of these data sets furthers the administration’s efforts to increase transparency and support data-driven decision making which is essential for health care transformation,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

“These public data resources provide a better understanding of Medicare utilization, the burden of chronic conditions among beneficiaries and the implications for our health care system and how this varies by where beneficiaries are located,” said Bryan Sivak, HHS chief technology officer. “This information can be used to improve care coordination and health outcomes for Medicare beneficiaries nationwide, and we are looking forward to seeing what the community will do with these releases. Additionally, the openFDA initiative being launched today will for the first time enable a new generation of consumer facing and research applications to embed relevant and timely data in machine-readable, API-based formats.”

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United States, Canada and Mexico Strengthen Information Sharing in Health Emergencies

The United States, Canada and Mexico have adopted a set of principles and guidelines on how the three countries’ governments will share in advance public information and communications products during health emergencies of mutual interest. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Canada’s Minister of Health Rona Ambrose and Mexico’s Secretary of Health Mercedes Juan signed a Declaration of Intent, formally adopting the principles and guidelines, at a trilateral meeting today during the 67th World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland.

“The United States, Canada and Mexico have had a long and close relationship in supporting and improving our collective ability to respond to public health events and emergencies of mutual interest when they arise,” Secretary Sebelius said. “This declaration reinforces our joint efforts to strengthen our national capabilities to communicate effectively with our respective populations.”

“Infectious diseases are not limited by countries’ borders, and neither are the ways through which we receive the news,” said Minister Ambrose. “This Declaration will help our countries work together on the essential task of communicating more effectively on public health issues, which will protect the health of all of our citizens.”

“The collaboration between the three North American countries has proved to be an extraordinary contribution to strengthening the security of health in the region,” said Secretary Juan. “The clear, transparent and timely exchange of information has been, and will remain, a central pillar of this cooperation, particularly for responding to public health emergencies.”

The Declaration of Intent calls on the three countries to:

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ONC Names New Chief: Karen DeSalvo, MD

Dr. Karen DeSalvo
Dr. Karen DeSalvo

As you’ve likely heard, ONC has named has its next leader, city of New Orleans Health Commissioner and senior health policy advisor Karen DeSalvo, MD, MPH, MSc.

She takes the post January 13, 2014.

DeSalvo is a former professor of medicine and vice dean of community affairs and health policy for Tulane University in New Orleans, according to Modern Healthcare. She led the effort to establish a network of primary-care medical homes as part of the city’s post-Hurricane Katrina rebuilding process. She also served as president of the Louisiana Health Care Quality Forum.

She will take over the role currently held by Acting National Coordinator Jacob Reider, MD, who is filling in for the departed Dr. Farzad Mostashari.

Department of Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’s announced the move to HHS staff today (text here courtesy of EHR Intelligence):

I would like to announce that Dr. Karen DeSalvo, who currently serves as the City of New Orleans Health Commissioner and Senior Health Policy Advisor to Mayor Mitch Landrieu, will be the next National Coordinator for Health Information Technology here at the Department.

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Stage 2 Patient Engagement is a Tough Hurdle, and It’s a Toothless, Un-enforceable Mandate

The fact that mandatory Stage 2 patient engagement is considered one of the largest meaningful use hurdles should come as a surprise to no one. If it is, that’s somewhat similar to saying that the day before a presidential election you still haven’t decided who you are going to vote for.

I think at this point it’s pretty short sighted to disregard this fact. Healthcare reform does not (yet) reform patients; it’s still a set of mandates for those in the field, practicing in the field and drawing money from the system.

Meaningful use is meaningless as far as patients are concerned. In almost every case they don’t know what it is nor do they care. They’ll only care when one of two things happen. You can take this to the bank: 1.) they are forced to pay or contribute financially in some way or 2.) you take away their right to care (in other words, you mandate them to do something in some way.)

I speak from experience gained from my time leading communication programs for a mandated statewide health insurance program.

If we want to hold patients responsible for their health outcomes, we need to either take away their right in some regard or tax them for their behavior. This is also commonly known as a sin tax. You smoke and you pay the tax on cigarettes.

I’m being a bit overly dramatic on purpose and I don’t recommend either of the two points above, but we should be fully aware that putting meaningful use in the hands of the patients are going to produce disappointing results for every physician and practice hoping to achieve Stage 2.

Just because a practice implements a patient portal doesn’t mean patients will use it. I have used my doctor’s patient portal. Even as a technology enthusiast and healthcare writer, I don’t particularly find it fun to use nor do I find it really helps me engage with my physician. Sure, I can send some emails and pay some bills through it, but that’s just the case. To me, it’s more of a bill pay system and I’m sure I’m not alone here. How many of you enjoy using your credit card company’s online bill pay system?

The only good news on this front is that Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services might have finally figured this out and may allow for an exception to the ill-conceived requirement, despite Kathleen Sebelius’ insistence that a measure of patient engagement be included in the Stage 2 requirement.

But, I’m not holding my breath that what’s best for physicians in regard to meaningful use attestation will be upheld, though, when the only response to physician frustration over the requirement because patients are not showing any interest is for physicians to “push” their users to use it.

In principal, that response is a lot like breaking a toothless law. Sure a law is on the books, and you broke it, but there’s nothing that you can do about it.

And, as anyone who works in communications understands, push communications only goes so far in the 21st century and not nearly as far as it may have 15 or 20 years ago.

Push and pull; now that’s the kind of conversations that engage. You give, you take; you speak, you listen.

Anything else is nothing but mandatory arrogance from political forces far from the field of actual care.