Andy Slavitt: Health IT must be 'a national priority'

WASHINGTON--When Andy Slavitt came to the District of Columbia two years ago, it was because technology was putting health reform in the U.S. at risk. Now, he says, technology is not doing all it can when it comes to patient care, and the industry must "refocus on our customers and rise above proprietary interests to make this a national priority."

"Robots can perform your mom's surgery, but reminding her to refill a prescription? No, it can't do that," he said during a keynote speech Tuesday at Health Datapalooza. "Technology isn't doing what we know it can. It's not helping make us smarter, it's not helping us make better decisions, it's not reducing our waste of time."

However, that doesn't mean it can't do those things and more.

"The opportunity for you to transform healthcare into an information industry has really never been more right, or more urgent," Slavitt said told a packed ballroom of healthcare professionals.

The proof, he said, is in the progress made through the Affordable Care Act.

"Tens of millions of Americans were in need of health coverage, and we all waited on the technology," Slavitt said. "Technology was the problem ... until it wasn't. After a while you never heard about the technology, and the next thing you know we had 20 million new people covered by health insurance."

He added that technology has helped the industry in many ways, such as redefining the value proposition for health insurance.

Data analytics allowed people to sign up for coverage in real-time, and changed how healthcare is offered and purchased. It even changed the way consumers shopped, Slavitt noted, making it easier for people to find the right health plan and sign up for coverage from their smartphones.

Slavitt also spoke about the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA), which he called "the biggest change in healthcare since the 1960s," which ushered in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. MACRA, he said, has caused "him to begin an obsession with the plight of the independent physician."

Through the process and listening to thousands of clinicians, patients and physicians "what's become clear is that the combination of technology, regulation and measurement takes time away from patients and provides little or nothing back in return for many physicians," he said.

Thus, Slavitt said, as the industry moves to a system based on quality measurement, there must be simplified technology that will work for patients and physicians. It's the perfect time to think big and be innovative, he said.

And, of course, he touched on data's role in healthcare--calling out organizations taking part in data blocking.

"It's time to lead, follow or get out of the way," he said. "If you have a business model which relies on siloing data and not using standards or not allowing data to follow the needs of patients, pick a new business model or pick a new business."