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Recapping Important HIMSS 2016 EHR Interoperability News

HIMSS 2016 brought huge industry-wide news, including promises for better EHR interoperability.

By Sara Heath

- Health IT, EHRs, and interoperability were major topics at the HIMSS 2016 Conference last week in Las Vegas, Nev.

HIMSS 2016

Between near industry-wide pledges of commitment to healthcare interoperability to the introduction of contests to develop better connected technology, healthcare professionals made it clear that interoperability is a major focus for the industry.

Below is a round-up of all the major interoperability-related developments that came out of last week’s conference:

HHS leads pledge toward interoperability

The conference started with major news that affected many throughout the healthcare space. On the first day of HIMSS 2015, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell announced an industry-wide pledge for interoperability.

Key industry figureheads, including vendor giants like Epic Systems and Cerner Corporation, signed onto the pledge, showing just how deep-seeded this need for connected health systems is. According to Burwell, all of the major EHR vendors, five of the largest health systems in country, and major professional organizations have all signed onto the pledge.

The pledge comes in three parts, including better consumer access to health information, regulations about data blocking, and a promise to develop industry-wide standards for interoperability.

Burwell praised the movement as a step forward for the entire healthcare industry, as better health IT means better overall care delivery.

“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.”

ONC presents two major health IT development contests

The theme of interoperability continued throughout the rest of the conference, including during an announcement from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC). The agency announced a total of $625,000 in prize money for winners of three health IT development contest.

The first two contests call for better consumer access to health information and for better physician EHR usability. Considering low usability for both patient-facing apps and provider-facing apps, the healthcare industry has a significant need for well developed technology in these areas.

The third contests calls to improve health IT and EHR transparency, including the formation of an online database that would help inform providers and health IT customers of reviews for the different technologies.

These contests also involved FHIR, with ONC calling for all of the developed apps to work within the interoperable FHIR ecosystem. This means that all of these apps will incorporate the FHIR technology enabling them to work on any device.

Interoperability in spotlight during end of MU

Interoperability stayed a focal point during the conference even when it wasn’t a part of a major industry announcement. During an interview with HealthITAnalytics.com, for instance, experts explained the importance of interoperability during the end of meaningful use.

“As folks think about meaningful use changing and evolving, there will be a big push from providers to ensure that any of those forthcoming changes really push the needle on interoperability, because that has been a major criticism of the EHR Incentive Programs,” Leslie Krigstein, vice president of Congressional affairs at CHIME, said to HealthITAnalytics.com. “That’s a major opportunity as they work on what the final Stage 3 product will be and what MACRA will be for physicians.”

Earlier this year, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services acting administrator Andy Slavitt announced that “The meaningful use program as it has existed, will…be effectively over and replaced with something better” at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference. Since then, CMS has maintained that providers should still be adhering to meaningful use requirements as the program is presently still intact, but in the near future it will be replaced with more outcomes-based programs.

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