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HHS Takes First Step to Spur Health IT Innovation, Investment

A new HHS workgroup looks to increase public-private collaboration, competition, and investment in health IT innovation.

HHS is taking steps to increase health IT innovation and investment.

Source: Thinkstock

By Kate Monica

- With many physicians and healthcare industry leaders raising complaints about the slow pace of health IT innovation, HHS is looking for new ways to drum up competition, funding, and ideas necessary for accelerated improvements.

In a newly-released request for information (RFI), HHS solicited feedback from healthcare industry stakeholders about ways to develop a public-private workgroup centered on promoting health IT innovation and investment.

The workgroup will facilitate “constructive, high-level dialogue between HHS leadership and those focused on innovating and investing in the healthcare industry,” HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan wrote in the RFI.

Specifically, the RFI will inform the workgroup structure. HHS is also seeking feedback about how to facilitate interactions between members of the federal department and stakeholders part of the private sector to spur investment, boost competition, accelerate innovation, and ensure capital investment in healthcare is effective in improving quality of care.

“HHS also seeks comment more broadly on opportunities for increased engagement and dialogue between HHS and those focused on innovating and investing in the healthcare industry,” Hargan stated.

Through the workgroup, HHS plans to foster a dialogue with representatives from innovation-focused companies, healthcare startup incubators and accelerators, healthcare investment professionals, healthcare-focused private equity firms, healthcare-focused venture capital firms, and other investors and innovators.

“While HHS seeks comment on the structure and focus of the workgroup, as well as other opportunities for engagement, the Department envisions the workgroup as a forum to hear the individual perspectives of attendees and foster new and innovative approaches to tackle the complicated challenges facing the healthcare industry,” said Hargan.

Compared to other industries (e.g., banking, transportation), healthcare has taken to innovation more slowly, partly due to strict regulation. As part of the RFI, HHS requested input about whether the workgroup should address the current state of regulation in healthcare and discuss potential ways to ensure regulations are more conducive to innovation.

HHS also seeks stakeholder feedback about whether the workgroup should examine “perceived barriers to innovation and competition in the healthcare industry.”

While a handful of large, enterprise health IT companies such as Epic and Cerner dominate the EHR market, tech giants including Google, Apple, and Amazon may soon revolutionize the industry.

Earlier this week, Apple announced its Health Records EHR data viewer is open to innovators. The Health Records open application programming interface (API) allows developers to create apps that leverage health record data to improve medication management, nutrition plan development, disease diagnosis, and other clinical processes.

By allowing developers to leverage health information to launch unique, customized apps, Apple is helping to proliferate patient-centric innovation.

The forthcoming HHS workgroup may identify ways to further promote competition and diversity in the healthcare sector, including “ways to encourage private sector investment to help combat health crises.”

One of the top priorities of the current Administration is to resolve the opioid crisis. Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs) have been an integral part of the effort to combatting this problem. Providers — particularly in the public sector — are encouraged to query patient names in the PDMP to access a patient’s controlled substance and prescription drug history for safer, better-informed prescribing practices.

In addition to clarification about ways to leverage investments and innovation to address health crises, HHS is also seeking feedback about any other areas of focus that would help the federal department engage with subsectors of the healthcare industry in order to increase innovation.

HHS also wants feedback about which stakeholders or industry experts should be included in the discussions.

“The Department seeks comment on how suitable attendees should be identified and selected to attend and engage in an exchange of ideas about the Department’s goals of increasing innovation and investment in the healthcare sector,” wrote Hargan.

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