ONC’s Donald Rucker: Access to health information will make patients better healthcare consumers

ONC National Coordinator Donald Rucker, M.D., left, said access to data will make healthcare consumers better shoppers. (Image: Evan Sweeney/FierceHealthcare)

LAS VEGAS—Americans love to shop. Except when it comes to healthcare.

Access to meaningful data could change that dynamic, according to Donald Rucker, M.D., who leads the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT. That inherent love for consumerism, combined with the ability to access patient records on a smartphone, is likely to drive more engagement from consumers who are spending more money on healthcare every year.

“If there’s one thing Americans are good at, it’s shopping,” he said. “We have pioneered shopping.”

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RELATED: Industry groups zero in on implementation timelines, data blocking and patient matching in TEFCA feedback

It was one of several issues Rucker addressed in a wide-ranging fireside chat at HIMSS18 with Denise Hines, executive director of the Georgia Health Information Network and board chair of HIMSS North America that included several questions about forthcoming regulations from the industry.

On the Trusted Exchange Framework and Common Agreement: Rucker said ONC is working its way through the comments submitted to ONC and reminded the audience there will be additional opportunities to provide feedback moving forward. He added that ONC is in the process of choosing a coordinating entity, which he said may end up being “a collaboration” rather than a single entity.

On information blocking: After downplaying the prevalence of data blocking last week, Rucker acknowledged that the reason data blocking made it into the 21st Century Cures Act was because lawmakers got enough complaints about it. But he said data blocking is “a moving target in some sense” and said the issue could get better as tools evolve.

“I think there has to be a common sense test here for what it is, what the effort is and what the opportunities are to do that,” he said.

On usability: Rucker said healthcare “hasn’t scratched what we can do with automation” and he said issues like user interface, documentation and prior authorization are “ripe for reengineering.”

On the barriers to interoperability: A significant barrier to interoperability is the multi-faceted nature of the problem, which forces the industry to tackle several complex issues at the same time, Rucker said. The biggest issue, however, is privacy and security.

“There’s not a single person in this room that didn’t know that answer,” he said, laughing. 

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