Are Providers Ready for Health-Care Data Exchange?

Health-care policy makers have dreamed about a seamless health-care data exchange network for years, envisioning medical records that are instantly accessible to both patients and doctors. The stars seem to be aligning for full-on data exchange thanks to a recent proposal from Medicare, but providers are still worried that the burdens are too high.

Medicare’s proposal, part of the proposed fiscal year 2019 inpatient prospective payment system rule, would overhaul an existing electronic health records incentive program to focus on supporting health-care data exchange, also known as interoperability. More effective use of electronic health records could speed up overall health-care data exchange.

The proposal is a start, but it doesn’t include enough changes to have a major impact on reducing administrative burdens for physicians using electronic health records, Ellen Janos, an attorney with Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo PC in Washington, told me.

Medicare’s move is also a sign that it understands that the original electronic health records incentive program was a failure, Colin Zick, a health-care attorney with Foley Hoag in Boston, told me. The incentive program, also known as meaningful use, paid physicians who could demonstrate they were making effective use of electronic health records.

“There has been precious little in results to show in terms of interoperability, let alone quality, for all that spending,” Zick said, referring to the meaningful use program.

The health-care information technology industry was largely supportive of the Medicare proposal. Washington-based Health IT Now said it applauded Medicare’s pursuit and commitment to data interoperability but said it remains to be seen whether the proposals will make it into the final rule unchanged.

“CMS would do well to demonstrate that commitment by pairing this proposed rule with additional actions to support the statutory requirement of widespread interoperability before year’s end,” Health IT Now Executive Director Joel White said in an April 26 statement.

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