Datapalooza17: Tom Price emphasizes a hands-off approach to health IT oversight

For Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, data and technology hold tremendous promise for the healthcare industry, but an inflexible regulatory environment makes that same technology burdensome and destructive.

During his keynote address on the first morning of Health Datapalooza hosted by AcademyHealth, Price vacillated between praising the importance of data and technology in today’s healthcare environment and lamenting the government’s overbearing role that stifles innovation. He assured audience members that the administration is “fully committed to fulfilling the promise of health data and health IT,” but argued the government should adopt a “60,000 foot” regulatory view to improve interoperability and the way physicians interact with health IT.

Price didn’t address any specific impending regulation changes such as Meaningful Use or EHR certification. Last week, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services released a proposed rule relaxing EHR reporting requirements.

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Instead of “stipulating every jot and tittle” Price said the federal government should simply govern the rules of the road, allowing ingenuity to drive data sharing. Achieving interoperability “ought to be just doggone simple,” but regulatory burdens have made that promise much more challenging.

“This administration is committed to doing all we can to align incentives and promote true interoperability,” he said.

Price reiterated his position that physicians are leaving medicine because of burdensome regulations, echoing comments he made during his Senate confirmation hearing. Among his clinical colleagues, there is a growing frustration that they are spending more time “tapping on screens or keyboards” instead of helping patients.

“We need physicians to be patient-facing, not computer-facing, which is what many of them feel they are right now,” he said.

Newly appointed National Coordinator Donald Rucker, M.D., and John Fleming, deputy assistant secretary for health technology reform, were in the audience, and Price praised both for their experience with health technology.

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Price also addressed the crowd directly, arguing that clinicians and IT leaders need to collaborate to push healthcare forward to ensure interoperability becomes a reality.

“I’m incredibly optimistic about the innovations that you all can come up with to make that happen,” said. “We’re on the cusp of some exciting stuff happening in healthcare.”