HHS’s Price Affirms Commitment to Health Data Innovation

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By James Swann

Health information technology and innovative uses of data are priorities for the Trump administration, which is committed to the free flow of electronic health-care data, HHS Secretary Tom Price said April 27.

The administration aims to give physicians incentives to use health IT and make it easier for electronic health systems to securely exchange information, also known as interoperability, Price said at Health Datapalooza, an annual health IT and data conference in Washington.

Price said health IT is crucial to democratizing medicine, and there shouldn’t be any roadblocks to letting patients access their health data. However, there must be more emphasis on reducing the physician burden associated with health IT implementation, he said.

While the future of the health-care system depends on data, physicians should be focused on their patients, not a computer, the Health and Human Services Department chief said.

Health information technology should make capturing patient data easy and avoid burdening physicians, Price said.

The HHS will work to encourage interoperability “at the 60,000 foot level,” Price said, meaning it will focus on an overall strategy and leave the actual mechanics of interoperability to vendors and providers. Along with a push to implement full interoperability, Price said the HHS will remain focused on its main priorities: people, patients and partnerships.

Freeing Patient Data

Price was followed by Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), who also stressed the importance of giving patients direct access to their health data.

Burgess said the health-care system is entering an age of personalized medicine, with apps available for a myriad of medical issues, making it important for patients to be able to access their data.

Burgess also said the health-care system has had a hard time transitioning to full interoperability since the 2009 passage of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, which promoted the adoption and meaningful use of HIT such as electronic health records.

The Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 and 2016’s 21st Century Cures Act, however, each contain sections devoted to promoting interoperability, Burgess said, and it’s now up to Congress to ensure that implementation goes smoothly.

MACRA includes interoperability metrics that providers must meet to receive payments under value-based payment models, while the Cures Act adds new penalties for blocking the sharing of electronic information.

The Cures Act defines information blocking as any action meant to interfere with or prevent the access, exchange or use of electronic health information, and it can occur when a vendor deliberately makes it difficult to share information with a rival technology system.

Securing the Data

While promoting the electronic exchange of patient data is a goal of the administration, it will only work if privacy and security measures are in place, HHS Office for Civil Rights Director Roger Severino said during the conference.

Health data interoperability goes hand-in-hand with privacy and security, Severino said.

If patients can’t trust that their data are being protected, then the patient-physician relationship will break down and medical outcomes will worsen, Severino said.

“With big data come big responsibilities,” Severino said.

Severino said he comes to his new position with an enforcement mindset, courtesy of his previous tenure with the Department of Justice, but that he also wants to work to educate providers on privacy and security issues.

To contact the reporter on this story: James Swann in Washington at jswann1@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Kendra Casey Plank at kcasey@bna.com

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