HIMSS 2017: ONC, CMS leaders call for more emphasis on patient engagement in health information technology

Jon White of ONC and Kate Goodrich of CMS discuss the issues facing health IT moving forward at HIMSS 2017 in Orlando.

ORLANDO, Fla.—Federal healthcare leaders urged the health IT community to turn its attention back to the patient when solving some of the ongoing challenges surrounding interoperability and making healthcare data and information useful to patients and caregivers.

During a special session at HIMSS 2017, Jon White, M.D., the acting national coordinator for health information technology at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC), and Kate Goodrich, M.D., the chief medical officer the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and director of the Center for Clinical Standards and Quality, discussed a range of issues from MACRA implementation and the Quality Payment Program to interoperability and the new administration's priorities for health IT.

White and Goodrich emphasized the role that patients play in the development of new health IT tools and the use of data. Goodrich said focusing on patients has emerged as one of CMS’ guiding principles, reiterating two of the goals outlined in a person and family engagement strategy released in December: promote tools and strategies that actively engage patients and develop meaningful measure that improve the patient and caregiver experience.

“These goals and objectives really drive our work and that needs to happen throughout the entire ecosystem,” she said.

White added that he “loves having the problem of fixing interoperability,” and said allowing patients greater access to their medical records has altered the patient-provider dynamic by making the patient more of a partner in their care. He noted that ONC has been “collaborating closely” with the new administration, and the agency has identified two key priorities moving forward: reduce the burden of health IT on the providers and achieve widespread interoperability in healthcare.

He noted that newly confirmed HHS Secretary Tom Price has emphasized the need to reduce the regulatory burden on physicians while also talking about the potential advantages that health IT has to offer.  

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“Both the public and private sectors really have a unique opportunity in the next decade to ensure the public health infrastructure makes health and care better and easier for clinicians and individuals,” White said. “It’s not just access to the data that we think about at ONC, but how do we use it and how do we apply it.”

White also noted that the implementation of the 21st Century Cures act is a priority for ONC as well as the new administration. Both White and Goodrich acknowledged the concerns expressed by physicians about reducing the regulatory burden and allowing them to spend more time with patients. But, as White said, “nobody wants to go back to paper” because the data that is available to physicians now has revealed new pathways to better patient care.

White also touched on the government’s precision medicine efforts moving forwarding, outlining several pilots that are scheduled to launch in the coming months and discussing the “All of Us” project led by the National Institutes of Health. He said the ONC has a very specific role to play in precision medicine efforts, including developing data standards to be used in the Precision Health Initiative and working with the Office of Civil Rights to ensure security and privacy around patient data within the initiative.