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HIMSS16: CMS throws down health data interoperability gauntlet

HIMSS16: CMS throws down health data interoperability gauntlet

The talk is over for health IT vendors as The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) steps up efforts to pivot U.S. healthcare to value-based care and away from fee-for-service. Addressing this year’s Health Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS) annual conference, CMS Acting Administrator Andy Slavitt (pictured above speaking at HIMSS with National Health IT Coordinator Karen DeSalvo, M.D.) turned up the heat.

Physicians are frustrated with both CMS and health IT vendors, and Slavitt spreads the blame equally over both parties, describing how hard-to-use electronic health record (EHR) systems combined with his own agency’s documentation requirements complicate and hamper healthcare.

He followed up by posting the harshest comments from frontline physician focus groups on the theater screens, giving vendors a dose of bitter medicine by quoting feedback on their own electronic medical records systems, such as, “To order aspirin takes eight clicks on the computer. To order double strength, it takes 18. That’s not patient care, it’s clicks.” Joe Conn at Modern Healthcare catalogued more in his recap of the session.

Solving the problem

Slavitt wasn’t saying anything new, he was just speaking truth like few of his predecessors dared on the vendor-friendly HIMSS stage. It signals a new position for CMS that could continue past the November elections, considering bipartisan pushback against both hard-to-use medical records systems and the documentation CMS mandates before physicians and hospitals can get paid.

Together, however, Slavitt said CMS and vendors can fix the issues the physicians called out.

“The good news is, they’re not describing things that we don’t know how to solve,” Slavitt said, going on to say that CMS will work on streamlining reporting regulations – and vendors will need to step up and improve usability and data interoperability across vendor platforms to make patient care coordination and referrals work more efficiently.

Building on Monday’s announcement of an interoperability pledge across health IT companies, healthcare providers, and other organizations, Slavitt was clear in his intent of putting vendors on notice that they, too, need to be more proactive in solving software usability and health data interoperability issues now. In other words, just signing on to the interoperability pledge won’t cut it.

“We need to be more committed than ever to making sure the substance of the pledge translates to reality, there has to be a private sector commitment to the greater good,” Slavitt said, stressing the free-will commitment piece, because regulations will never work. There are too many technical ways to get around hypothetical interoperability regulations, he said, when a vendor doesn’t want to do it: Legal clauses, documentation access barriers or blocking data under the guise of IP protection or data security.

There will be good and bad PR

Slavitt made two things clear on the HIMSS16 stage: He’s taking accountability for his own agency’s convoluted rules, and he will use his bully pulpit to urge health IT vendors to make their systems more usable and cooperative with each other.

And then he said it: “The companies who live up to their commitments here will be applauded, and I strongly recommend you recognize those who don’t.”

Later, he said: “Interoperability is a choice. And it’s certainly not consumers and patients and physicians [who are choosing against it]. It’s got to be someone else.”

It’s a soul-searching moment for the vendors on the wrong side what could be a long, protracted campaign on government web sites. Anyone who knows SEO can tell you what a positive or negative mention on a federal forum can do for a company’s reputation.

But it’s also a golden opportunity for those innovators with patient-centric, open-data initiatives and forward-thinking usability design. If you’re moving healthcare interoperability forward, let us help you get the word out to the industry, physicians, customers and patients. This is your time to shine.

If you would like to have a bigger voice in this or any health IT conversation, MSLGROUP can help. Please contact Doug Russell at or 781-684-0770.

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