HHS makes plans to speed data exchange

Request for information seeks public input about policies that will strengthen business case for it

At the 2013 HIMSS Annual Conference & Exhibition on Wednesday, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Acting Administrator Marilyn Tavenner and National Coordinator for Health IT Farzad Mostashari, MD, announced plans to accelerate health information exchange in the the U.S.

"Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, we are improving the way care is delivered while lowering costs," said Tavenner in a statement. "We are already seeing benefits, such as a reduction in hospital readmissions due to these reforms. Health IT and the secure exchange of information across providers are crucial to reforming the system, and must be a routine part of care delivery."

Tavenner and Mostashari said the Department of Health & Human Services will set aggressive goals for 2013, with hopes of 50 percent of physician offices using electronic health records and 80 percent of eligible hospitals receiving meaningful use incentive payments by the end of the year.

The department will also push harder for interoperability, they said. HHS will increase its emphasis on ensuring electronic exchange across providers – starting by issuing a request for information to get public input about policies that will strengthen the business case for data exchange to ensure health information will follow patients, seamlessly and securely, wherever they get care.

Moreover, HHS seeks to drive more effective use of electronic health records through projects such as the Blue Button initiative, which allows Medicare beneficiaries to access their full Medicare records online today.

The department is working with the Veterans Administration and more than 450 different organizations to make healthcare information available to patients and health plan members, officials say, and is encouraging Medicare Advantage plans to expand the use of Blue Button to provide beneficiaries with one-click secure access to their health information.

[See also: Mostashari calls on vendors to play fair]

As for meaningful use Stage 2, HHS announced that it is implementing rules that define what data must be able to be exchanged between health IT systems, including how data will be structured and coded so that providers will have one uniform way to format and securely send data.

It is also taking new steps to ensure the integrity of the MU program is sound, and technology is not being used to game the system. For example, HHS is conducting extensive medical reviews and issuing comparative billing reports that identify providers.

At the same time, HHS touted big progress on health IT adoption. EHR implementations have tripled since 2010 – increasing to 44 percent in 2012 – and computerized physician order entry has more than doubled (increased 168 percent) since 2008.

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