NQF issues new quality measurement reports for telehealth and interoperability

Doctor with phone and tablet
Thanks to funding from HHS, NQF published two new frameworks to measure the impact of interoperability and telehealth.

The National Quality Forum released new frameworks to measure the value of telehealth and the impact of data interoperability, two issues that have been getting more attention from federal policymakers.

The organization’s deep dive into interoperability—conducted on behalf of the Department of Health and Human Services—comes as the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT is developing its trusted exchange framework required under the 21st Century Cures Act. NQF identified four broad categories of interoperability: the quality and volume of health data exchange, health data usability, patient care applications, and the impact on patient safety, costs savings and care coordination. More specially, NQF’s Interoperability Committee identified 53 potential measures to be used now and in the future.

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“This framework gives important guidance on key concepts where measures are needed to identify the extent or lack of interoperability so that we can make it a reality across the continuum of care,” Mark Savage, director of health policy at the University of California San Francisco’s Center for Digital Health Innovation, said in an announcement. “This guidance will help ensure that both providers and patients have the data they need to assess the relative quality and value of care and determine next steps.”

In a second HHS-funded report that focused on measuring the impact of telehealth, NQF again outlined four broad focus areas that addressed access to care, the financial impact for both payers and providers, the user experience for patients, caregivers and providers, and technical and clinical effectiveness. The committee also listed 16 specific telehealth measures within those categories. 

“Telehealth is healthcare. It is critically important that we measure the quality of telehealth and identify areas for improvement just as we do for in-person care,” said Marcia Ward, Ph.D., director of the Rural Telehealth Research Center at the University of Iowa and co-chair of NQF’s Telehealth Committee.

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Healthcare executives see telehealth as a critical opportunity to provide at-home care to specific patient populations, and most are investing in new technology as a result. At the same time, widespread adoption has been handcuffed by reimbursement laws that haven’t kept pace with innovation, as well as ambiguous legislation at the state level.  

Lawmakers are considering several bills that would expand telehealth reimbursement, including the CONNECT for Health Act of 2017 that was reintroduced with bipartisan support. But it remains unclear whether lawmakers will build telehealth legislation into other government funding bills.