Electronic Health Records

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HHS Interoperability Pledge Gains Major Support at HIMSS 2016

90% of the nation's EHR vendors, 5 of the largest health systems, and industry organizations have signed onto the interoperability pledge.

By Sara Heath

Yesterday at the Healthcare Informatics Management Systems Society (HIMSS) 2016 conference, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell announced an industry-wide pledge to improve interoperability across all EHRs and healthcare systems.

Ninety percent of the industry’s EHR vendors – including vendor giants like Epic Systems, Cerner Corporation, and McKesson – have all signed onto Burwell’s pledge, as well as five of the nation’s largest health systems and numerous professional organizations.

Burwell’s pledge is in three parts, including improving consumer access to health data, eliminating intentional data blocking, and implementing federal standards for health data interoperability.

The first part entails providing better consumer access to health data, and empowering those consumers to share that information with parties they deem fit. This part also includes education measures such as ensuring that consumers understand safety and security protocol with health data sharing and interoperability, as well as their own rights to access this data.

The second part of the pledge, which addresses the industry issue of data blocking, is a general promise not to intentionally block health information and to foster an environment where health information exchange (HIE) can occur.

This pledge adds to the many actions the healthcare industry and Congress has made against data blocking in the past year, including making strict definitions for data blocking and developing methods for penalizing those who take part in data blocking.

The final part of the pledge includes a promise to help develop standards for interoperability and health data storage. Developing these kinds of standards makes information more easily sent across various different technologies, allowing providers to receive more complete health data.

These promises are a significant step forward for the healthcare industry, which is crippled by lack of interoperability across health data systems. Just this week HHS’s Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT released its report to Congress detailing this considerable hindrance.

Secretary Burwell, in announcing the pledge at HIMSS 2016, explained that interoperability and better functioning health IT is all a part of the industry’s overall goal of better healthcare.

“These commitments are a major step forward in our efforts to support a healthcare system that is better, smarter, and results in healthier people,” said Burwell. “Technology isn’t just one leg of our strategy to build a better healthcare system for our nation, it supports the entire effort. We are working to unlock healthcare data and information so that providers are better informed and patients and families can access their healthcare information, making them empowered, active participants in their own care.”

Other experts agreed with Burwell, stating that all of health IT hinges on interoperability.

“The future of the nation’s health delivery system is one where electronic health information is unlocked and shared securely, yet seamlessly, to put patients at the center of their own care,” said Karen B. DeSalvo, M.D., M.P.H., M.Sc., national coordinator for health information technology. “The broad agreement by leaders in health and health IT across the nation brings us much closer to our vision for a truly learning, connected health system.”

As stated above, several key EHR vendors, health systems, and professional organizations have signed onto the pledge, including HIMSS itself and the American Healthcare Informatics Information Management Association (AHIMA).

“AHIMA believes these three principles will make a significant and meaningful difference in making sure health information is available where and when it’s needed,” said AHIMA CEO Lynne Thomas Gordon, MBA, RHIA, CAE, FACHE, FAHIMA. “AHIMA and its thousands of member health information management professionals are proud to partner with HHS and other leading associations, healthcare systems, and electronic health record providers to advance this critical cause.”

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