HIMSS16: Andy Slavitt, Karen DeSalvo discuss barriers to data sharing

LAS VEGAS -- A day after Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell unveiled a public-private commitment to improve health data sharing efforts, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Acting Administrator Andy Slavitt said he would not be bashful in the face of optimism about expressing what steps must be taken to better the industry.

Slavitt (pictured) pulled no punches Tuesday in a discussion session with National Coordinator for Health IT Karen DeSalvo at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society's annual conference, putting the onus squarely on health IT vendors for the poor state of interoperability between provider organizations.

"Interoperability is a choice," Slavitt said. "And it's certainly not consumers and patients who are choosing not to have ... information. And it's certainly not physicians that are choosing not to have the information show up enough to take care of patients. So it's got to be someone else who's making that choice, and they've got to make a different choice. ... It's a business practice choice."

DeSalvo, also commenting on barriers to interoperability, pointed to misapplications of HIPAA, both knowingly and unknowingly, as a hurdle that must be overcome.

"There's still a sense that data doesn't flow by default, even for clinical care," she said. "That's one of the reason we've spent the last few months trying to provide clarity around HIPAA; we don't want that to be an artificial barrier to data flow."

Still, in a meeting with reporters earlier in the day, DeSalvo said the fact that many in the industry acknowledge that information blocking occurs means that the industry has come a long way.

"If you think about a year ago, when we released the blocking report, there were a host of organizations who denied that blocking even was happening," DeSalvo said at the meeting. "So to move culturally to a place where these groups are willing to publicly say that they want to engage in something now that they've acknowledged info blocking can exist in the marketplace is a big cultural shift."

Slavitt said the industry remains at a point where technology often hurts more than it helps when it comes to allowing physicians to provide better care. With that in mind, he said, companies that live up to their pledged commitments to improve data sharing while preventing data blocking will be applauded for their efforts.

As for those that continue to hold the industry back?

"I strongly encourage you to recognize those that don't [live up to their pledges]," Slavitt said.