PCAST report calls on HHS to develop national health data infrastructure

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services must lead efforts to develop a "robust" national health information infrastructure via provider adoption of interoperable electronic health records, according to a new report from the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST).

The report, published May 29, calls for better systems engineering to improve the U.S. healthcare system and makes several recommendations, including:

  • Accelerating the alignment of payment incentives and reported information with better outcomes for individuals and populations
  • Providing national leadership in systems engineering by increasing the supply of data available to benchmark performance and examine more broad regional or national trends
  • Increasing technical assistance to providers and communities in applying systems approaches

Systems engineering has produced  positive results in the "small number" of healthcare organizations that use it, the authors wrote. But systems methods and tools are not yet widespread in the industry.

The authors say that HHS must provide "hands-on support" to smaller physician practices over the next few years. Such an initiative, the authors add, should piggyback on existing programs, such as the Regional Extension Center program developed by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT.

To increase performance benchmarking data, the report's authors call on HHS to create a new senior leadership position focused on advancing information science and data analytics. Duties for the position would include using open data initiatives to expand access to existing data and seeking out new opportunities for alignment and integration.

"Systems engineering requires multiple types of data to be successful, ranging from clinical health information to information on operational processes to broader benchmarking indicators," the report's authors say. "As data sets approach the size that can be deemed 'big data,' new capabilities emerge that can assist system-improvement efforts."

The report references both the 2010 PCAST report on health IT and the JASON report published for ONC last month, saying that those analyses remain "relevant" as future policies are developed.

To learn more:
- here's the full report (.pdf)