Karen DeSalvo: Candid feedback on HIT regulations, policies crucial

Health IT holds promise for delivery of care and improvement of care, but there must be interoperability of systems, flexible oversight of technology and governance policies for it to reach its full potential, according to panelists at a Bipartisan Policy Center event held Wednesday in the District of Columbia.

From new care delivery models and electronic health records to big data collection and the explosion of genomics, health IT is helping patients in the U.S. be more engaged in, and better understand, their care, former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, M.D., said.

But, he said, that explosion of new technology also requires the industry and government to create new ways to ensure safety in development and implementation of new tools.

A new, nimble and flexible oversight network is necessary, he said. Industry leaders have come together over the BPC's HIT safety framework and through talking and engagement have found common ground on necessary elements of the framework, he added.

"We are at the cusp of creating a regulatory environment that encourages innovation ... creates job and improves health of individuals," he said.

Karen DeSalvo, National Coordinator for Health IT, also mentioned the importance of an open dialogue on health IT throughout the industry and the federal government.

"AMA sends me nice love letters," she said in reference to the American Medical Association's often critical letters to her on programs such as Meaningful Use. DeSalvo said that kind of candid feedback is crucial to advancing health IT.

She also emphasized the importance of public-private partnerships.

"The more we can do to get back to the early roots of ONC to send the right signals, so we're good partners to the government, is tantamount," DeSalvo said.

In addition, health IT is not just about electronic health records and Meaningful Use, she said, and the ONC is working to look beyond that. Interoperability is an especially important aspect to focus on; there needs to be interoperability of polices and standards, she said.

John Hammergren, president and CEO of McKesson Corporation, also noted the importance of interoperability.  

Sometimes doctors want to go back to where they came from, go back to paper records and be able to see more patients and get more work done, he said. But that will change as people get more comfortable with and are able to share more information through technology.

However, the technology also will continue to evolve as comfort levels rise, and it will be constantly refreshed. Because of that, he said, it is important that all systems are interoperable.

"We will not accomplish our mission if we can't share data," Hammergren said.