Entering a new era of population health

We have reached an inflection point in the history of health IT
By Brian Ahier
10:04 AM
Open door

In the six years since it became law, the HITECH Act has done much to advance the use of health information technology. And although the process of collecting and sharing health data has not yet significantly impacted care costs or quality, it has laid an important foundation for us to move toward population health management.

[See also: Population health success depends on good data]

There are important discussions underway to determine what's needed to leverage health data to improve clinical outcomes and lower costs, and to extend those benefits across entire patient populations. Intelligent tools for population health will enable improvements in care quality, clinical outcomes and care cost.

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Working through issues around health data exchange and patient engagement indicate the next challenges. We must construct a platform that will enable innovation in population health and analytics to thrive.

[See also: Pop health analytics top ACO priority]

Federal entities responsible for overseeing health and the healthcare industry in general are advancing rapidly toward a vision of interoperability and data sharing.

Congress taking a look
Congress is taking both near- and long-term actions regarding health IT innovation and standards. Near-term examples include recently directing the Office of the National Coordinator to report progress around interoperability and data sharing, and asking the Government Accountability Office to report on health information exchanges.

Congress has also launched the "21st Century Cures" initiative to help laws keep pace with health innovation. Among other measures, this initiative would consolidate meaningful use, quality reporting and value-based payments into one program – potentially the most significant move related to population health by Congress to date.

Federal Health IT Strategic Plan and Interoperability Roadmap
This past December, the Department of Health and Human Services released the Federal Health IT Strategic Plan, a coordinated effort among more than 35 federal departments and agencies to advance the collection, sharing and use of electronic health information – the cornerstones of population health management.

The HHS plan's data-sharing section references the ONC's Connecting Health and Care for the Nation: A Shared Nationwide Interoperability Roadmap Version 1.0, which was released at the end of January. The roadmap advances the ambitious goals to be reached by the end of 2017, including:

  • Establishing a coordinated governance framework and process for nationwide health IT interoperability;
  • Improving technical standards and implementation guidance for sharing and using a common clinical data set;
  • Enhancing incentives for sharing electronic health information according to common technical standards; and
  • Clarifying privacy and security requirements that enable interoperability.

In announcing the roadmap, HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell called for "an interoperable health IT system where information can be collected, shared and used to improve health, facilitate research and inform clinical outcomes. This Roadmap explains what we can do over the next three years to get there."

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