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Health IT Standards, Interoperability to Gain Traction in 2017

Uncertainty about healthcare regulation could negatively impact aspects of the health IT ecosystem while not affecting others such as health IT standards and interoperability, says DirectTrust.

By Kyle Murphy, PhD

Among five health IT trends to watch for in 2017, DirectTrust CEO & President David C. Kibbe, MD, MBA anticipates progress in health IT interoperability and added attention being paid to emergent health technologies such as health IT standards despite uncertainty surrounding healthcare regulation.

“One has to begin any set of predictions about health care and health IT during 2017 with the caveat that with Donald Trump as President almost nothing is certain except uncertainty itself,” he said in a statement Monday. “It may be months or even longer before we know the full impact of his and a Republican Congress’ leadership on the crucial levers of legislation and regulation affecting healthcare funding, insurance coverage and the uses of health IT.”

While the future of healthcare laws such as the Affordable Care Act remains in doubt, Kibbe foresees little change in the industry’s use of health IT to improve care coordination and interoperability.

“The themes of using health IT to improve care coordination, to manage patient populations through better collection and data use, and the value of advances in telemedicine, will continue to be heard and supported by both the private sector and the federal government in a bipartisan fashion,” he maintained. “Interoperability of systems will remain an important trend for hospitals, physicians and federal providers of care like the VA and DoD.”

Health IT interoperability and information sharing will have the added support of the 21st Century Cures Act to help maintain their status as industry-wide priorities — although the timing of the bill means certain of its provisions will not take effect until next year and beyond.

“The 21st Century Cures Act, now federal law, will, if anything, increase transparency with respect to health IT technology vendors and their products’ usability, while at the same time discourage blocking of access to and transport/exchanges of health information,” Kibbe continued. “But the advisory groups the Cures Act establishes — and the recommendations forthcoming from them—will not be felt for at least another year or so and, even then, they will seem iterative and not much of a rocking of the boat.”

Included among the top health IT trends making the DirectTrust list are health technologies focused on aggregating patient health data from disparate health IT systems whose progress Kibbe calls a “wild card” in the coming year. The health IT specifications and application programming interface (API) Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) is one such health technology.

“These include, among others, telemedicine, FHIR RESTful queries via APIs, permission-based blockchain, wearables and PHR platforms,” Kibbe added. “The latter are particularly interesting as a space open to and likely to be dominated by technology giants Microsoft, Apple, Google, IBM, Facebook and Twitter, as these companies pair up with specific providers and aim their initiatives at specific diseases and conditions.”

While health IT interoperability and standards are components of the health IT economy unlikely to be affected by regulatory uncertainty surround ACA and Medicare, others may be and have downstream implications.

“Even if Congress simply begins the process in a serious way in January 2017—which is certainly expected—and what follows are months of debate and controversy, the effect will be felt by the entire healthcare industry as uncertainty about the future,” stated Kibbe. “This could lead possibly to a number of months of inaction that might feel like paralysis, including failures to invest in health IT infrastructure and innovation.”

Prior to the close of 2016, DirectTrust wrote President-elect Donald Trump to ensure continued support of EHR interoperability and health data exchange under the incoming administration.

“Our hope is that the momentum established to this point will continue under the new administration,” Kibbe said at the time. Clearly, members of the healthcare community have no assurance that the status quo will remain.

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