Modern Healthcare By Laura Green | June 2, 2015
WASHINGTON—Federal health officials are stepping up efforts to stop practices they’re call “data-blocking” with a new push to collect stories from patients, doctors and others whose health data requests were stymied.
The CMS has created a new e-mail address—email@example.com—for these reports and announced it during the Health Datapalooza conference in Washington Tuesday.
“I want to hear and understand information-blocking practices you’ve experienced,” acting CMS Administrator Andy Slavitt said at the conference. “Data blocking will not be tolerated.”
Officials plan to act on the reports e-mailed to them, Slavitt said. But the agency has few tools at its disposal to do so.
In April, HHS’ Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology released a report indicating widespread business practices by providers and health information vendors that intentionally prevent the easy flow of electronic health records. Practices include charging exorbitant fees to access medical records and simply preventing one company from accessing lines of codes needed to talk to another system.
Karen DeSalvo, national coordinator for health IT, acknowledged during an address at Datapalooza Tuesday that the problem is complicated, so solving it will be complicated, too. “You can’t just point your finger at one part of the system,” DeSalvo said. “Everybody’s got a hand in it.”
One obstacle, for example, is that health IT vendors say they must protect proprietary standards. In response, the ONC issued an Interoperability Standards Advisory this year.
“We’re going to be calling on the private sector to commit to (openness) with us in a more public fashion—to say that (blocking is) not OK,” DeSalvo said.
Several health IT vendors have banded together to make their products interoperable with one another. The not-for-profit CommonWell Health Alliance has snagged every major EHR developer except Epic Systems Corp.
Still, getting a critical mass of the private sector on board will require the business community to give up an important competitive edge.
Craig Brammer previously served on the senior leadership team pushing for open and portable electronic heath records at the ONC, and he experienced plenty of pushback from the industry in that job. Brammer now works at the Health Collaborative in Cincinnati, where every major health system in the region collaborates and shares data to improve health outcomes in the community.
“If you’re a hospital CEO in the past, you didn’t think about how am I going to make it easier for my customers to go to my competitor,” he said. “It makes perfect economic sense to be where we are today.”
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The CMS also announced during Datapalooza that it will make Medicare data accessible to entrepreneurs that previously was available only to researchers. Slavitt asked innovators not to use the data merely to create cool gizmos for the nation’s healthiest and wealthiest but also to help the sickest Americans. “We are aiming directly at shaking up healthcare innovation,” he said.
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