Press "Enter" to skip to content

CMS, ONC officials hit HIMSS to tout interoperability rules


Updated at 4:54 pm

ORLANDO, Fla.—A day after releasing two significant proposed regulations, leaders from the CMS and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology spread out across HIMSS19 in Orlando to talk up what they say will finally put patients in the driver’s seat.

“We had two big goals. One transcendent goal was to empower patients to control their healthcare,” Dr. Donald Rucker, head of ONC, said during a media briefing Tuesday, adding that modern technology, including the near-ubiquitous use of smartphones and apps, allows patients to take more control of their care by virtue of gaining more access to their data.

Through the two proposed rules—724 pages from ONC and 250 from the CMS—regulators intend to push the industry to make use of application programming interfaces to speed up how patients can access information on their mobile devices.

“With APIs, you get your data into your platform, your tools, your display,” Rucker said. “If you want to go to another provider, you can.”

The proposals also spell out how regulators will fight data-blocking by payers, vendors and providers. The ONC rule lays out seven exemptions for withholding information, including preventing patient harm, promoting security of health information and responding to requests that aren’t feasible.

Former government officials praised the Trump administration’s actions.

“We needed this rule as a call to action for the private sector,” Mike Leavitt, who was HHS secretary under President George W. Bush, said during a panel discussion that included CMS Administrator Seema Verma.

Verma didn’t hold back either, saying that industry wasn’t doing what was needed to facilitate useful data exchange.

“The federal government invested $34 billion (in electronic health records) and look at where we are,” Verma said during a media briefing Tuesday afternoon. “The industry has not done the right thing,” which has forced the government to step in. She added that she’s hoping the CMS’ position as the industry’s largest payer will create momentum for others to follow.

Aneesh Chopra, who served as chief technology officer under President Barack Obama, noted that the initial meaningful use regulations merely set a floor for what kind of and how information could be shared. The proposed regulations should serve as a catalyst to put more useful data in play.

Indeed, Karen Murphy, executive vice president and chief innovation officer at Geisinger, equated electronic health records to electronic filing cabinets. Murphy, who acknowledged he hasn’t read the rules yet, added that the inefficiency in today’s digital environment lead to increased costs and inefficient care.

One area where the CMS and ONC won’t yet be pushing the industry is on patient matching and ensuring the patients are linked to the correct record.

Congress has for decades limited HHS’ ability to pursue a national patient identifier. Those restrictions have loosened during the past couple of years and ONC in 2017 awarded $75,000 to six grantees to develop patient matching algorithms. In its proposed rule, the CMS asked for comments from the industry on how it can tackle patient matching.

For his part, Rucker said that technology is evolving quickly, suggesting in a pro-consumer market, the industry will be forced to respond.

Verma also noted that the CMS is seeking information on how to start applying health IT standards to post-acute providers.