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Readers Write: Why the Interoperability and Patient Access Proposed Rules Matter for the Future of Healthcare

June 3, 2019 Readers Write 2 Comments

Why the Interoperability and Patient Access Proposed Rules Matter for the Future of Healthcare
By Russ Thomas

Russ Thomas is CEO of Availity of Jacksonville, FL.


The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) have proposed new rules designed to give patients greater control over their own data and advance interoperability across the healthcare industry. Should the rule be finalized in its current form, millions of patients will have unprecedented access to and control over their own health information by 2020.

With some limited exceptions, including several related to privacy and security, the Interoperability and Patient Access Proposed Rule would make patient data exponentially more accessible and portable through open data-sharing technology and patient-facing apps.

Ideally, this would not only provide patients greater ownership of information related to their diagnoses, procedures, and tests, but also would mandate the seamless transfer of information from one healthcare organization to another as patients transition from physician to physician – enabling the promise of coordinated care within a complex healthcare system.

HL7 FHIR will be required as the standard for supporting all APIs under the proposal. Nearly 90% of hospitals and 70% of MIPS-eligible clinicians are using FHIR-enabled EHRs, according to ONC.

On paper, the rules are a logical extension of the Triple Aim—delivering better quality, better population health, and lower costs. Our industry has long advocated for the migration of patients to the center of the healthcare ecosystem.

However, empowering patients as consumers is only as effective as the tools they have to make more informed choices about their care. In this regard, healthcare is woefully behind the curve. Consumers can easily and securely access banking transactions and retail purchases over their smartphones, but not, say, their own clinical information, which is often tangled in a web of data silos, privacy rules, and vendor competition. Implementing and standardizing these rules will not be an easy lift.

In the real world of healthcare, the free flow of data and determining how, where, and when it is routed to the appropriate person is a daunting task with the highest of stakes. Although applying the proposed rules industry-wide will be time-consuming and resource-intensive, I believe the effort is both worth it and long overdue.

These proposed rules are a critical tap on the shoulder, a reminder that achieving healthcare’s future is impossible without first solving the foundational problems rooted in our present moment.

Healthcare technology companies should be at the forefront of supporting industry standards that drive efficiencies and interoperability and reduce costs and administrative burdens for their customers. Tools like FHIR enable healthcare organizations to efficiently exchange well-defined information.

I believe that this standardization is essential to the shift to value-based models of care, where payers and providers are seeking secure ways to better communicate and exchange information.

Standards, however, are only one part of the solution. Creating a more solid foundation for healthcare’s building blocks requires several key ingredients: widespread adoption of automation; more efficient channels for sharing and maintaining healthcare information; and modernization of laws governing healthcare data access and sharing, like HIPAA. It also requires evolution of business models to reward transparency and information sharing and penalize data duplicity.

On the payer side, many health plans still store provider data on legacy systems in multiple disconnected databases. As business requirements have evolved, insurance organizations have implemented incremental stopgap measures to address data limitations, but these don’t address the core challenge, the lack of a single source of truth.

It’s important to hear from all concerned stakeholders in order to get these rules right. However, I believe that at the core of these rules lies an essential truth. Unlocking and harnessing the power of data and providing patients the ability to access it is the truest course to a more sustainable and patient-centric healthcare system.

We have been presented an opportunity to fundamentally transform the American healthcare system for the better. It would be a mistake to miss it.

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Currently there are "2 comments" on this Article:

  1. If the feds really wanted interoperability they would get rid of that dumb HIPAA 1996 requirement that CMS can NEVER create or require a unique person/patient ID. But then if they did that companies like Availity that charge big bucks to jury-rig a patient ID across different providers would lose a big revenue generator. Be careful what you wish for.

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