Aneesh Chopra: Too many bystanders in health IT

Demand and participation eventually will drive use of open public application program interfaces in healthcare for sharing information between entities, former U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra predicts. However, he said, first providers must be more willing to make the initial jump onto the bandwagon.

At the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT's annual meeting this week in the District of Columbia, Chopra--who currently serves as executive vice president of data analytics incubator Hunch Analytics, which he founded in October 2013--said many providers today likely are already using similar tools to share sensitive data in their everyday lives, but are hesitant to take the plunge on the healthcare front.

"If any of you watch Netflix on an Apple TV or an Xbox, you facilitate the sharing of your sensitive rental records data with your TV provider," Chopra said.

That technology, when combined with Health Level Seven's Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resource (FHIR) standard, will help to improve data sharing efforts, he said.

Providers, he said, don't have to wait for agencies like the ONC to mandate use of such resources.

"If those of us in this room are waiting for the proverbial Moses with tablets to emerge [and say] 'thou shalt adopt this set of things' to create the connected health app ecosystem, I think we'll have missed out," Chopra said. "The challenge to me is bystander vs. participant: Most of the vendors are on, and if they're not on, they're going to want to be on, so call your vendor ... and ask for the FHIR server."

Chopra suggested that those on the fence can create an "innovation sandbox" to test use of such tools first.

"Give yourself a little home for experimentation," he said. "We can do this. Does anyone need permission to do this? No. Do you have to wait for the miracle of vendor brilliance to solve this issue for you? No. It's all open documentation if you want to program against it."

Chopra said he hopes to see "widespread tinkering and experimentation" by providers in the near future; that, he believes, will increase demand.

"We're not inventing a new form of physics," Chopra said. "We're turning basic capabilities that are widely deployed on the Internet to our very important neck of the woods."

In addition, he said that payment reform should spur more providers to want to take advantage of such resources.

"We all heard Secretary [Sylvia] Burwell put us on a very clear path--50 percent of Medicare payments on alternative payment models by 2018," Chopra said. "If you are aware of that future, you will be hungry for doing all of the things you're going to want to do. The demand is driven by our incentives in the system."