Healthcare has a new acronym – OBRHI. Quite a mouthful. Perhaps “Aubrey” is a little easier to say.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced the creation of a new office, the Office of Burden Reduction and Health Informatics. It is designed to reduce friction and regulatory and administrative burden between itself and caregivers – “to further the goal of putting patients first, the organization said in a statement.
PER CMS, this office is an “outgrowth” of its Patients over Paperwork (PoP) Initiative, meant to cut administrative red tape across the health system. Additionally, the agency said it seeks reform through the office to eliminate “duplicative, unnecessary and excessively costly requirements and regulations.”
As part of the PoP Initiative — focused on reducing the unnecessary regulatory burden to allow providers to concentrate on their primary mission – these efforts and the office’s creation hope to save clinicians $6.6 billion and 42 million burden hours through 2021.
“As part of our efforts to date, CMS has heard from over 2,500 providers, clinicians, administrative staff, health care leaders, beneficiaries and their support teams through 158 site visits and listening sessions,” the agency said. “Through more than 10 Requests for Information (RFI) combined with stakeholder interviews, CMS also has over 15,000 comments to assist us in our burden reduction efforts.”
CMS Administrator Seema Verma said in the agency’s statement: “Specifically, the work of this new office will be targeted to help reduce unnecessary burden, increase efficiencies, continue administrative simplification, increase the use of health informatics, and improve the beneficiary experience.”
In its effort to streamline, CMS says it’s seeing “significant results,” including removing unnecessary, obsolete or excessively burdensome conditions of participation for hospitals and other healthcare providers previously spent on paperwork and faster processing of state requests to make program or benefit changes to their respective Medicaid programs through the state plan amendment and section 1915 waiver review process.
“The new office will strengthen CMS’s efforts across Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Health Insurance Marketplace to decrease the hours and costs clinicians and providers incur for CMS-mandated compliance,” the agency said.
OBRHI (or “Aubrey”) may also increase the number of clinicians, providers, and health plans CMS engages, it says, to ensure it gains a better understanding of how various regulatory burdens impact healthcare delivery.
Aubrey also will focus on health informatics development, the use and application of health data and clinical information to healthcare, as well as furthering interoperability innovation.
Time will tell if OBRHI is just another red-tape agency or if it reaches its intended goal of improving communication with caregivers and driving healthcare innovation. Lovers of big government, applaud, Those who feel the government-run programs like the DMV are the pinnacle of customer service, furrow your brow.
The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), in conjunction with the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) announced a policy of enforcement discretion to allow compliance flexibilities regarding the implementation of the interoperability final rules announced on Mar. 9, 2020, in response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) public health emergency. ONC, CMS, and OIG will continue to monitor the implementation landscape to determine if further action is needed.
“ONC remains committed to ensuring that patients and providers can access electronic health information, when and where it matters most. During this critical time, we understand that resources need to be focused on fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. To support that important work and the information sharing efforts we are already seeing, ONC intends to exercise enforcement discretion for 3 months at the end of certain ONC Health IT Certification Program compliance dates associated with the ONC Cures Act Final Rule to provide flexibility while ensuring the goals of the rule remain on track.” – Don Rucker, MD, National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.
“Today’s action follows the extensive steps CMS has taken to ease burden on the healthcare industry as it fights COVID-19. Now more than ever, patients need secure access to their healthcare data. Hospitals should be doing everything in their power to ensure that patients get appropriate follow-up care. Nevertheless, in a pandemic of this magnitude, flexibility is paramount for a healthcare system under siege by COVID-19. Our action today will provide hospitals an additional 6 months to implement the new requirements.” – Seema Verma, CMS Administrator
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a fact sheet with additional guidance for healthcare providers and patients about the telehealth benefits in the agency’s Medicare program. The fact sheet is part of a broader effort by CMS and the White House Task Force to ensure that all Americans – particularly those at high-risk of complications from the COVID-19 virus – are aware of easy-to-use, accessible benefits that can help keep them healthy while helping to contain the community spread of this disease.
“As we continue to learn about the COVID-19 virus, it’s important for all Americans, and particularly vulnerable populations who are at heightened risk, to be able to access their providers when they feel sick or have questions” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma. “Over the last three years, President Trump’s leadership and historic efforts have made it possible for doctors to bill for their time on the phone or video chat with patients to help triage medical issues. Today, a patient who is not feeling well can call their doctor to decide whether or not they need to go in for a visit, offering solutions and peace of mind immediately.”
CMS’ historic effort made virtual check-ins and other services that use telecommunications possible with new policies implemented in 2019 and 2020. These services are available right now to patients and their physicians, providing a great deal of flexibility and an easy way for patients who are concerned about illness to remain in their home avoiding exposure to others.
With the COVID-19 virus, there is an urgency to expand the use of virtual care to keep the beneficiaries with mild symptoms in their homes while increasing access to their provider’s office.
For the beneficiary, these benefits can be very helpful. For example, a Medicare beneficiary who is looking for advice about symptoms they are experiencing, can call their doctor and receive medical advice about whether he or she needs to see their doctor in person for a physical exam.
If they start to feel more ill, a virtual check-in allows a healthcare provider to offer recommendations about next steps and even take precautions for someone they are concerned may have the COVID-19 virus or flu before they step in the office or hospital putting others at risk. These check-ins are billable services and the Medicare coinsurance and deductible would apply to these services.
Medicare Advantage plans may also provide enrollees access to Medicare Part B services via telehealth in any geographic area and from a variety of places, including beneficiaries’ homes, as part of their benefit packages for a plan year.
Therefore, enrollees in Medicare Advantage plans that include coverage of such services may be available to receive clinically appropriate services for treatment of COVID-19 via telehealth from many sites, including their home.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) today finalized two transformative rules that will give patients unprecedented safe, secure access to their health data. Interoperability has been pursued by multiple administrations and numerous laws, and today, these rules finally deliver on giving patients true access to their healthcare data to make informed healthcare decisions anPutting patients in charge of their health records is a key piece of giving patients more control in healthcare, and patient control is at the center of the Trump administration’s work toward a value-based healthcare system.d better manage their care.
The two rules, issued by the HHS Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), implement interoperability and patient access provisions of the bipartisan 21st Century Cures Act (Cures Act) and support President Trump’s MyHealthEData initiative. MyHealthEData is designed to empower patients around a common aim — giving every American access to their medical information so they can make better healthcare decisions.
Together, these final rules mark the most extensive healthcare data sharing policies the federal government has implemented, requiring both public and private entities to share health information between patients and other parties while keeping that information private and secure, a top priority for the Administration.
“President Trump is delivering on his vision for healthcare that is affordable, personalized, and puts patients in control. From the start of our efforts to put patients and value at the center of our healthcare system, we’ve been clear: Patients should have control of their records, period. Now that’s becoming a reality,” said HHS Secretary Alex M. Azar. “These rules are the start of a new chapter in how patients experience American healthcare, opening up countless new opportunities for them to improve their own health, find the providers that meet their needs, and drive quality through greater coordination.”
“Delivering interoperability actually gives patients the ability to manage their healthcare the same way they manage their finances, travel and every other component of their lives. This requires using modern computing standards and APIs that give patients access to their health information and give them the ability to use the tools they want to shop for and coordinate their own care on their smartphones,” said Don Rucker, M.D., national coordinator for health information technology. “A core part of the rule is patients’ control of their electronic health information which will drive a growing patient-facing healthcare IT economy, and allow apps to provide patient-specific price and product transparency.”
“The days of patients being kept in the dark are over,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma. “In today’s digital age, our health system’s data sharing capacity shouldn’t be mired in the stone age. Unfortunately, data silos continue to fragment care, burden patients, and providers, and drive up costs through repeat tests. Thanks to the leadership of President Trump, these rules begin a new chapter by requiring insurance plans to share health data with their patients in a format suitable for their phones or other device of their choice. We are holding payers to a higher standard while protecting patient privacy through secure access to their health information. Patients can expect improved quality and better outcomes at a lower cost.”
These final rules deliver on the Administration’s promise to put patients at the center of their care by promoting patient access and use of their own health information and spurring the use of and development of new smartphone applications.
Addressing Interoperability and Information Blocking
The ONC Final Rule identifies and finalizes the reasonable and necessary activities that do not constitute information blocking while establishing new rules to prevent “information blocking” practices (e.g., anti-competitive behaviors) by healthcare providers, developers of certified health IT, health information exchanges, and health information networks as required by the Cures Act.
Currently, many EHR contracts contain provisions that either prevent or are perceived to prevent users from sharing information related to the EHRs in use, such as screen shots or video. The ONC final rule updates certification requirements for health IT developers and establishes new provisions to ensure that providers using certified health IT have the ability to communicate about health IT usability, user experience, interoperability, and security including (with limitations) screenshots and video, which are critical forms of visual communication for such issues.
The ONC final rule also requires electronic health records to provide the clinical data necessary, including core data classes and elements, to promote new business models of care. This rule advances common data through the U.S. Core Data for Interoperability (USCDI).
The USCDI is a standardized set of health data classes and data elements that are essential for nationwide, interoperable health information exchange. The USCDI includes “clinical notes,” allergies, and medications among other important clinical data, to help improve the flow of electronic health information and ensure that the information can be effectively understood when it is received. It also includes essential demographic data to support patient matching across care settings.
Unleashing Innovation & Patient Access
ONC’s final rule establishes secure, standards-based application programming interface (API) requirements to support a patient’s access and control of their electronic health information. APIs are the foundation of smartphone applications (apps). As a result of this rule, patients will be able to securely and easily obtain and use their electronic health information from their provider’s medical record for free, using the smartphone app of their choice.
Building on the foundation established by ONC’s final rule, the CMS Interoperability and Patient Access final rule requires health plans in Medicare Advantage, Medicaid, CHIP, and through the federal Exchanges to share claims data electronically with patients.
CMS took the first step towards interoperability by launching Medicare Blue Button 2.0 for Medicare beneficiaries in 2018. Medicare Blue Button 2.0 gives beneficiaries the ability to securely connect their Medicare Part A, Part B and Part D claims and encounter data to apps and other tools developed by innovators. Engagement and partnership with the technology community has involved more than 2,770 developers from over 1,100 organizations working in the Medicare Blue Button 2.0 sandbox to develop innovative apps to benefit Medicare patients.
Currently, 55 organizations have applications in production. Beginning January 1, 2021, Medicare Advantage, Medicaid, CHIP, and, for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2021, plans on the federal Exchanges will be required to share claims and other health information with patients in a safe, secure, understandable, user-friendly electronic format through the Patient Access API. With more complete data in their hands, patients can be more informed decision makers leading to better informed treatment.
This Patient Access API will allow patients to access their data through any third party application they choose to connect to the API and could also be used to integrate a health plan’s information to a patient’s electronic health record (EHR). By requiring their relevant health information including their claims to be shared with them, patients can take this information with them as they move from plan to plan, and provider to provider throughout the healthcare system.
To further advance the mission of fostering innovation, the CMS final rule establishes a new Condition of Participation (CoP) for all Medicare and Medicaid participating hospitals, requiring them to send electronic notifications to another healthcare facility or community provider or practitioner when a patient is admitted, discharged, or transferred. These notifications can facilitate better care coordination and improve patient outcomes by allowing a receiving provider, facility, or practitioner to reach out to the patient and deliver appropriate follow-up care in a timely manner.
Additionally, CMS is requiring states to send enrollee data daily beginning April 1, 2022 for beneficiaries enrolled in both Medicare and Medicaid, improving the coordination of care for this population. This ensures beneficiaries are getting access to appropriate services and that these services are billed appropriately the first time, eliminating waste and burden. Beneficiaries will get the right services at the right time at the right cost, with no administrative burden to rebill services.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) took additional actions to ensure America’s patients, healthcare facilities and clinical laboratories are prepared to respond to the 2019-Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19).
CMS has developed a second Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS) code that can be used by laboratories to bill for certain COVID-19 diagnostic tests to help increase testing and track new cases.
In addition, CMS released new fact sheets that explain Medicare, Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program, and Individual and Small Group Market Private Insurance coverage for services to help patients prepare as well.
“CMS continues to leverage every tool at our disposal in responding to COVID-19,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma. “Our new code will help encourage doctors and laboratories to use these essential tests for patients who need them. At the same time, we are providing critical information to our 130 million beneficiaries, many of whom are understandably wondering what will be covered when it comes to this virus. CMS will continue to devote every available resource to this effort, as we cooperate with other government agencies to keep the American people safe.”
HCPCS is a standardized coding system that Medicare and other health insurers use to submit claims for services provided to patients. Last month, CMS developed the first HCPCS code (U0001) to bill for tests and track new cases of the virus.
This code is used specifically for CDC testing laboratories to test patients for SARS-CoV-2. The second HCPCS billing code (U0002) announced today allows laboratories to bill for non-CDC laboratory tests for SARS-CoV-2/2019-nCoV (COVID-19).
On February 29, 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a new, streamlined policy for certain laboratories to develop their own validated COVID-19 diagnostics. This second HCPCS code may be used for tests developed by these additional laboratories when submitting claims to Medicare or health insurers. CMS expects that having specific codes for these tests will encourage testing and improve tracking.
The Medicare claims processing systems will be able to accept these codes starting on April 1, 2020, for dates of service on or after February 4, 2020. Local Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs) are responsible for developing the payment amount for claims they receive for these newly created HCPCS codes in their respective jurisdictions until Medicare establishes national payment rates.
Laboratories may seek guidance from their MAC on payment for these tests prior to billing for them. As with other laboratory tests, there is generally no beneficiary cost sharing under Original Medicare.
To ensure the public has clear information on coverage and benefits under CMS programs, the agency also released three fact sheets that cover diagnostic laboratory tests, immunizations and vaccines, telemedicine, drugs, and cost-sharing policies.
Medicare Fact Sheet Highlights: In addition to the diagnostic tests described above, Medicare covers all medically necessary hospitalizations, as well as brief “virtual check-ins,” which allows patients and their doctors to connect by phone or video chat.
Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) Fact Sheet Highlights: Testing and diagnostic services are commonly covered services, and laboratory and x-ray services are a mandatory benefit covered and reimbursed in all states. States are required to provide both inpatient and outpatient hospital services to beneficiaries. All states provide coverage of hospital care for children and pregnant women enrolled in CHIP. Specific questions on covered benefits should be directed to the respective state Medicaid and CHIP agency.
Individual and Small Group Market Insurance Coverage: Existing federal rules governing health insurance coverage, including with respect to viral infections, apply to the diagnosis and treatment of with Coronavirus (COVID-19). This includes plans purchased through HealthCare.gov. Patients should contact their insurer to determine specific benefits and coverage policies. Benefit and coverage details may vary by state and by plan. States may choose to work with plans and issuers to determine the coverage and cost-sharing parameters for COVID-19 related diagnoses, treatments, equipment, telehealth and home health services, and other related costs.
Summary of CMS Public Health Action on COVID-19 to date:
On Mar. 4, 2020, CMS issued a call to action to healthcare providers nationwide to ensure they are implementing longstanding infection control procedures and issued important guidance to help State Survey Agencies and Accrediting Organizations prioritize their inspections of healthcare facilities to focus exclusively on issues related to infection control and other serious health and safety threats. For more information on CMS actions to prepare for and respond to COVID-19, visit: https://www.cms.gov/newsroom/press-releases/cms-announces-actions-address-spread-coronavirus
Today, the Trump Administration proposed changes to further the agency’s priority to transform the healthcare delivery system through competition and innovation while providing patients with better value and results. The proposed rule would update Medicare payment policies for hospitals under the Inpatient Prospective Payment System (IPPS) and the Long-Term Care Hospital (LTCH) Prospective Payment System (PPS) for fiscal year 2020 and advances two key CMS priorities, “Rethinking Rural Health” and “Unleashing Innovation,” by proposing historic changes to the way Medicare pays hospitals.
“One in five Americans are living in rural areas and the hospitals that serve them are the backbone of our nation’s healthcare system,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma. “Rural Americans face many obstacles as the result of our fragmented healthcare system, including living in communities with disproportionally higher poverty rates, more chronic conditions, and more uninsured or under insured individuals. The Trump Administration is committed to addressing inequities in healthcare, which is why we are proposing historic Medicare payment changes that will help bring stability to rural hospitals and improve patients’ access to quality healthcare.”
The inpatient hospital wage index specifies how inpatient payment rates are adjusted to account for local differences in wages that hospitals face in their respective labor markets. It is intended to measure differences in hospital wage rates across geographic regions and is updated annually based on wage data reported by hospitals. Hospitals located in areas with wages less than the national average receive a lower Medicare payment rate than hospitals located in areas with wages higher than the national average. For example, a hospital in a rural community could receive a Medicare payment of about $4,000 for treating a beneficiary admitted for pneumonia while a hospital in a high wage area (like many urban communities) could receive a Medicare payment of nearly $6,000 for the same case, due to differences in their wage index.
In last year’s proposed rule, CMS invited comments on changes to the Medicare inpatient hospital wage index. Many responses reflected a common concern that the current wage index system makes the disparities between high and low wage index hospitals worse. High wage index hospitals, by virtue of higher Medicare payments, can afford to pay their staff more, allowing the hospitals to continue operating as high wage index hospitals. Conversely, low wage index hospitals often cannot afford to pay wages that would allow them to climb to a higher wage index. Over time, this creates a downward spiral that increases the disparity in payments between high wage index hospitals and low wage index hospitals, and payment for rural hospitals and other low wage index hospitals declines.
To address these disparities, CMS is proposing to increase the wage index of low wage index hospitals. This change would ensure that people living in rural areas have access to high quality, affordable healthcare. CMS is considering several ways to implement this change, and the agency looks forward to comments on the different approaches.
The Trump Administration is also announcing proposals that would ensure Medicare beneficiaries have access to a world-class healthcare system by unleashing innovation in medical technology and removing potential barriers to innovation and competition in order to expedite access to novel medical technology.
“Transformative technologies are coming to the private market, but Medicare’s antiquated payment systems have not contemplated these technologies,” said Verma. “I am particularly concerned about cases that have been reported to the agency in which Medicare’s inadequate payment has led hospitals to curtail access to needed therapies. We must continually update our policies in response to the rapid pace of advancement in medical science.”
The cornucopia that is the annual HIMSS conference and tradeshow – healthcare technology’s biggest event – is behind us, but what’s left in the wake is wonderful, inspiring even, if not a bit overwhelming. The reactions to this year’s event have been overwhelmingly positive. Interoperability in the form of data sharing and a ban on patient health information blocking by CMS (through proposed rules released the first day of HIMSS) set the tone.
This was followed by CMS administrator Seema Verma taking a strong tone in all of her presentations at HIMSS, with the media and during her keynote speech. The federal body made it clear that data generated from patient care is, unequivocally, their data. While these themes heavily influenced the show, there were other takeaways.
There are many other diverse opinions about what came out at HIMSS19 and the themes that will affect healthcare in the year ahead. For some additional perspective, I turned to healthcare’s thought leaders; people who are a lot smarter than I. Their responses follow. That said, did we miss anything in the following?
Dr. Geeta Nayyar, Femwell Group Health and TopLine MD
After spending a week surrounded by some of the most intellectual and innovative minds globally in healthcare at HIMSS19, I’m even more confident that the shift toward patient engagement mass adoption is well underway and ON FHIR. The new CMS/ONC proposed law around interoperability and penalties for “information blocking,” are both touchdowns for the quarterback, which remains to be patient engagement. The robust discussions during the pre-conference HIMSS patient engagement program, reflected a move to a consumer-centric approach evidenced by the presence of Amazon, Google and Microsoft at the show. The keynote by Premier’s CEO Susan Devore shared a consumer-centered, provider led vision, “with data flowing seamlessly and being analyzed and effectively leveraged to guide decision making at the point of care.” Collaboration in healthcare is the key to everyone’s success. I was inspired to see her and so many women coming together to support each other in HIT, as Dr. Mom remains the healthcare decision maker in the households, we are all ultimately trying to reach.
Andrew Schall, Modernizing Medicine
Physician burnout continues to be a hot topic coming out of HIMSS19 and many feel that EHR platforms may be a part of the burnout epidemic. There were several sessions that focused on user-centered design at HIMSS this year including one that focused on the iterative approach to software development and user experience. First, I think that the industry is recognizing that one-size-fits doesn’t work for EHRs. Additionally, I believe that improvements will come in large part from the greater involvement of practicing physicians in designing specialty-specific EHR workflows and interfaces. A combination of powerful technology like AI and augmented intelligence, as well as well-designed EHR solutions with an intuitive user interface and user experience, will help ease the physician burden and automate time-consuming and administrative tasks like coding and billing – ultimately reducing burnout.
Shane Whitlatch, FairWarning
HIMSS 2019 showcased the ongoing digital transformation to make healthcare responsive to patients across a continuum of care. Enabling patients to be able to access, use and own their personal health data, while ensuring privacy and security was the central takeaway of this year’s HIMSS. Notable, critical moves to support this goal included: the Department of Health and Human Services announced proposed rules to enhance interoperability and data access with payor data; ongoing security and privacy efforts to ensure appropriate patient access to their data while mitigating emerging risks from items including medical devices to nation-state attackers; and artificial intelligence and machine learning initiatives to effectively manage the tsunami of data in healthcare while promoting optimal healthcare.
Tripp Peake, LRVHealth
The best part of HIMSS this year was we seemed to get away from a single buzzword. Healthcare is hard, there’s no silver bullet. The Precision Medicine Summit got into the weeds about how to really roll out a program in a provider system. The AI companies stopped talking about AI for AI sake and were more focused on ROI. Everyone seemed more balanced about VBC: yes, inevitable, but also gradual. Consumerism was probably as close to a central theme as existed. And I continue to be excited about the energy, creativity, and commitment of the entrepreneurs in this market.
Don Woodlock, InterSystems
Anytime you bring 43,000 healthcare professionals together in one location, you will never have a shortage of opinions on the future of the industry. We are at the cusp of a revolution in healthcare, driven by technological advancements. Some key trends we saw at HIMSS19 were, no surprise, around artificial intelligence, where people are trying to enhance predictive risk scoring and improve patient engagement. Additionally, there were profound announcements around mandating application programming interface (APIs) to improve the flow of healthcare data across the ecosystem. As interoperability becomes liquid, it will become the critical component of every healthcare system, driving the industry to new heights.
Paddy Padmanabhan, Damo Consulting
On day one of the conference, the HHS sucked the oxygen out of the room by dropping a proposed 800-page rule on data and interoperability. The rule aims to aggressively expand interoperability by making it mandatory for providers and health plans participating in government programs such as Medicare Advantage, CHIP and others to make patient data available to patients as a condition for business. CMS head Seema Verma and ONC Chief Don Rucker drove the message home repeatedly during the conference. Indeed, Seema Verma declared it an epic misunderstanding that patient data can belong to anyone other than the patient. A somewhat sobering counterpoint was voiced by Epic Systems CEO Judy Faulkner in a media interview where she suggested that interoperability challenges go well beyond data sharing by EHR vendors. Regardless of where it may fall, interoperability will continue to dominate healthcare IT agenda for some time to come. Related issues around new and emerging data sources, especially social determinants of health, will gain prominence in the coming months.
Erin Benson, LexisNexis Health Care
The proposed rule on interoperability of health information influenced most conversations at HIMSS. In the context of cybersecurity, the rule served as a reminder that it’s just as important to let “good guys” in quickly and seamlessly as it is to prevent unauthorized access. We want to enable value-based care and give patients the ability to manage their own health by having access to their records. We also want to keep costs low and efficiency high by enabling interoperability and giving partners, vendors and employees necessary access to systems. Therefore, a cybersecurity strategy needs to strike a balance between user engagement and data security.
Mike Morgan, Updox
The power of consumerism is really impacting healthcare and the need for patient engagement is alive and well. Providers across the board must look at new technologies and ways to redefine patient engagement to better communicate with patients and partners but do it via channels that are easy for staff and customers to use. New applications, such as telehealth and secure text messaging, have changed how healthcare communicates and consumers are demanding that immediate, convenient engagement.
Vince Vickers, KPMG
HIMSS19 seemed to have the most decision makers at the conference in five-plus years when a lot of healthcare organizations were still looking at implementing electronic health records. We might be ready for another wave of healthcare IT investment after healthcare organizations digested those investments made in electronic health records. The key is now around optimizing EHRs – interoperability, improving ease of use, enhancing analytics — or dedicating resources to enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems to make themselves more efficient in the back office. We’re also seeing healthcare organizations position themselves to be more consumer-oriented, partly to address new entries from some of the tech companies, such as Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and a multitude of others, that wanted to make a big splash at HIMSS.
The megalithic healthcare conference, HIMSS19, has come and has gone from the vast former swampland of central Florida. While I’m a relative newcomer to the show’s trajectory – I’ve been to four of the annual tradeshows since 2011 – this year’s version was, for me, the most rewarding and complete of them all. This could be for one of several reasons. Perhaps because I no longer represent a vendor so sitting in the exhibit hall in a 30×30 booth with a fake smile wondering when the day’s tedium would end and the night’s socials would begin may impact my rosy outlook.
Or, maybe I was simply content to engage in the totality of the experience, attend some quality sessions, meet with many high-class people and discuss so-called news of the day/week/year. Doing so felt, well, almost like coming home. Or, perhaps my experience at the conference this year was so good because of running into former colleagues and acquaintances that drove me to such a place of contentment while there. No matter the reason, I enjoyed every minute of my time at the event.
Something else felt right. An energy – a vibe – something good, even great, seems/ed about to happen. Something important taking place in Orlando, and I was blessed to be a part of it. Kicking off the week, CMS created news – like it does every year at about this time – with its announcement that it will no longer allow health systems and providers to block patients from their data. This was a shot across the bow of interoperability and the industry’s lack of effort despite its constant gibberish and lip service to the topic.
Another fascinating thing that finally occurred to me: no matter the current buzzword, every vendor has a solution that’s perfect for said buzzword. Be it “patient engagement,” “interoperability,” “artificial intelligence,” “blockchain”; whatever the main talking point, every organization on the exhibit floor has an answer.
But, no one seems to have any real answers.
For example, after nearly a decade, we still don’t have an industry standard for interoperability. Patient engagement was once about getting people to use patient portals for, well, whatever. Then it was apps and device-driven technologies. We’re now somewhere in between all of these things.
AI? Well, hell. It’s either about mankind engineering the damnedest algorithms to automate the hell out of everything in the care setting (an over exaggeration) or that AI/machine learning will lead to the rise of machines, which will help care for and cure people – before ultimately turning on us and killing or enslaving us all (again, I’m overly exaggerating).
During her trip to HIMSS19, Center for Medicare & Medicaid Service administrator Seema Verma spoke with registered members of the media to preview her keynote speech and answer questions about her department’s newly released proposed interoperability rule. The rule dictates that data generated by patients while in the scare setting is theirs to own, transfer and share with caregivers. It also would require healthcare providers and plans to implement open data sharing technologies to support transitions of care as patients move between these plan types.
In a statement released prior to her meeting with the media, Verma said that ensuring patients have easy access to their information, and allowing that information to follow them on their healthcare journey “can reduce burden, and eliminate redundant procedures and testing, thus giving clinicians the time to focus on improving care coordination and, ultimately, health outcomes.”
During her meeting with the media at HIMSS, Verma started by discussing CMS’ “why” — why CMS is moving toward enhanced patient empowerment – as well as her and the administration’s focus on the improving the sustainability of the healthcare community.
Patient empowerment remains front and center for the agency, she said. For example, from the patient perspective, everyone has their own experience of going to the healthcare system and not being an empowered patient, she said, and not having access to data decreases patient engagement. CMS is working to change that, now.
When people understand their health and participate in their health, this has the ability to improve care outcomes, she added, and through complete access to their healthcare records, patient care can be more complete. Ultimately, she said, with every detail of a person’s health information in one place — and accessible to the patient — will kick start the digital health data revolution.
Matthew Fisher, attorney at Mirick O’Connell, a Massachusetts-based law firm, spoke to Electronic Health Reporter during HIMSS19, following the release of a new proposed rule by HHS. The proposed rule outlines potential sanctions and penalties placed upon healthcare organizations and physicians that keep information from patients, known as information blocking.
In her explanation of the rule, Administrator Seema Verma took a strong tone in supporting patient access to their health information and ownership of patient data. “One thing that I want to make very clear for the entire healthcare system is that the data belongs to the patient. It’s their data. It doesn’t belong to the provider. It doesn’t belong to the EHR company. It belongs the patient.”
Based on these sentiments and the proposed rule, here Fisher speaks about what it ultimately may define, and its potential impact on providers and healthcare organizations. Listen to our full conversation here: