HHS: Vendors, providers pledge to improve data sharing

A multitude of electronic health record vendors and providers have joined together to commit to improve consumer and provider access to electronic health record data, according to an announcement by Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell.

Companies that provide 90 percent of EHRs used by American hospitals, in addition to hospitals in 46 states--including the country's five largest private healthcare systems--and more than a dozen leading stakeholder groups and professional associations, have pledged to implement three "core commitments" to improve the flow of health information, Burwell said. The announcement was made at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society's annual meeting in Las Vegas on Feb. 29.

The commitments include:

  • To help consumers easily and securely access their electronic health information, direct it to any desired location, and learn how it can be shared and used. The health IT developers have committed to use the single shared standard for communication known as Fast Health Care Interoperability Resources (FHIR) so that resources, even smartphone apps, can be compatible with one another.
  • Not to engage in information blocking, defined as knowingly and unreasonably interfering with data sharing.
  • To implement federally recognized, national interoperability standards, policies, guidance and practices for electronic health information and adopt best practices, including those related to privacy and security.

"These commitments are a major step forward in our efforts to support a healthcare system that is better, smarter and results in healthier people," Burwell said in a statement. "Technology isn't just one leg of our strategy to build a better healthcare system for our nation, it supports the entire effort. We are working to unlock healthcare data and information so that providers are better informed and patients and families can access their healthcare information, making them empowered, active participants in their own care."

In a related press call, National Coordinator for Health IT Karen DeSalvo called the news "exciting and important" and said that it is a "truly historic opportunity" to provide better patient care and move toward a "true learning, connected health system." ONC expects to see some changes by fall 2016.

Some of the stakeholder groups that announced their support behind the effort include the American Medical Association, the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) and the National Partnership for Women & Families.

"While we've made considerable progress digitizing the industry, we must overcome some significant barriers that impede information sharing and prevent us from realizing the full benefits of health IT," CHIME President and CEO Russell Branzell said in a statement. "Through this pledge, CHIME and its members strengthen their resolve to transform the nation's delivery system and improve patient care."

The lack of effective data sharing has been a front-burner issue and criticized by many.  The GAO has even accused the Meaningful Use program of impeding interoperability.

To learn more:
- here's the announcement
- check out the fact sheet
- visit the website
- see what groups are pledging support