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MACRA’s Quality Payment Program to Support Health IT Progress

The head of ONC says that the Quality Payment Program under MACRA will propel health IT into the future.

By Sara Heath

The head of ONC is targeting MACRA implementation of the Quality Payment Program as the driving forces behind improving health IT and seamless data flow.

In a speech delivered late last week to the Association of Health Care Journalists, National Coordinator Vindell Washington, MD, MHCM, described ONC’s role in boosting health IT nationwide, stating that the new MACRA implementation rule is the culmination of the agency’s twelve-year history.

This is because MACRA implementation will reshape how the nation pays for healthcare based on value-based care.

“This rule implements the ‘doc fix,’ more formally known as the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act, or MACRA,” Washington explained. “As many of you already know, this is a major step in transitioning how we pay for care in this country to reward quality.”

The Quality Payment Program relies heavily on the “seamless flow of health data,” Washington asserted. Without robust health IT interoperability, eligible clinicians will not be able to successfully be able to participate in the program.

“Our collective goal throughout the QPP is to support the vision of a simpler approach to technology for providers; focused on advancing information sharing and better outcomes for patients,” he said, noting that the Quality Payment Program’s paramount feature is its streamlined flexibility.

Overall, the Quality Payment Program supports clinician flexibility in choosing measures, gets rid of all-or-nothing EHR measures, reduces the number of measures, and focuses on patient access to health data.

The program also awards “bonus points” for practice improvement activities, emphasizing the important role health IT plays in reshaping healthcare.

“In short, the Quality Payment Program recognizes and rewards the fact that health IT is foundational to providing quality care,” Washington said.

Despite the importance of data flow for supporting the Quality Payment Program, Washington said health IT needs to catch up to support other missions such as the Precision Medicine Initiative, the Cancer Moonshot, and the fight against the opioid crisis.

Washington told his audience that supporting seamless health data flow will require three success drivers.

First, the industry will need to create a business case for health data interoperability, meaning stakeholders will need to shape payment reform around data flow.

Second, the industry will need to develop and enforce common federal health data standards.

Third, the industry will need to shift the culture around health data, primarily on data blocking.

“Too often we are seeing health systems and vendors focusing competing on having access to data not delivering better care or applications, and it is holding back progress,” Washington asserted.

The industry will also need to work to clarify HIPAA. Many industry leaders state that they cannot easily exchange data due to HIPAA regulations; however, Washington says the rule indeed facilitates safe and secure data transfer.

“HIPAA not only protects personal health information from misuse, it also enables the access, use, and sharing of protected health information among and between providers and their health IT systems when and where it is needed for patient care,” he explained.

In order to fight this reported misconception, Washington says ONC is issuing educational materials informing patients of their rights to their health data, ultimately working to improve healthcare delivery.

Health IT use is an ongoing movement, Washington said. Although the healthcare IT industry faces numerous challenges, it is moving forward in the right direction. Washington sees that in the new generations of medical school students.

“The next generation of physicians, which includes my daughters, has no concept of caring for patients without electronic health records and technology – only an expectation that the technology will improve, will make their practice better, and will meet the promise of health IT in healthcare,” he concluded.

“The great strides we have made, in a few short years, are truly remarkable. And I can’t imagine us going back.”

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