Biden pushes for specifics on federal data-sharing initiatives; physicians want competition from new players

Joe Biden
Joe Biden says "real action is needed" for federal efforts to improve interoperability to materialize. (Screenshot-SXSW)

Reactions to the Trump administration’s plan to provide patients access to their medical data are still pouring in with different views about how the government should manage that transition.

In an op-ed for Fortune, former Vice President Joe Biden, now the co-chair of the Biden Cancer Initiative, said he supported efforts by the current administration to increase interoperability, but wants to see “real action” behind those efforts to ensure patients aren’t “made to jump through hoops to access and share their own data.”

For federal health agencies, that means rigorously enforcing data blocking, requiring healthcare providers to give patients their full medical record within 24 hours of a request and devoting federal dollars towards a patient data system—overseen by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation—that can align data from multiple care providers into a single patient portal.

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Biden defended the $37 billion the Obama administration spent on incentivizing providers to adopt EHRs and blamed the lack of interoperability on the industry.

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“Medical record companies and health providers have implemented systems that are not interoperable,” he wrote. “Many would say this was done on purpose because it meant they could lock up customers by making it time-consuming and expensive to change systems. And even worse, they made it very difficult (sometimes impossible) for patients to get their own data quickly, cheaply and in an easily accessible digital format.”

During her announcement of the MyHealthEData initiative, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma indicated her agency “will not tolerate” information blocking.

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Two physician leaders with Practicing Physicians of America had a slightly different take. In an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, Marion Mass, M.D., a pediatrician who co-founded the organization, and Kenneth Fisher, M.D., who serves as an advisory board member, rehashed a common refrain: that EHRs were “forced on” the medical community and outdated, clunky software is “killing the medical profession.”

But the physicians placed some of that blame on the federal government, arguing that EHR certification requirements have insulated vendors from “best-in-tech competitive pressures.” That’s where the MyHealthEData initiative can make a difference, but only if federal officials are willing to open the industry up to new players, they wrote.

“The usual suspects can only do so much,” Mass and Fisher wrote. “This is a market begging for competition from the likes of Amazon, whose cost-cutting and ease-of-use expertise is well established. Apple has also made a welcome entrance into the market. The administration can help by directing HHS to allow EHR competition.”