Seema Verma promises CMS is focusing on interoperability, patient empowerment

The CMS Administrator on Friday also opened up about her personal mission to give patients a voice -- and better access to the data they need.
By Jessica Davis
02:47 PM
CMS interoperability

If there is one thing Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma hopes to accomplish during her tenure it’s this: Empowering patients.

During her keynote address at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT’s annual meeting on Friday, Verma described the healthcare system as “confusing.” So CMS wants to ensure patients are “empowered about their healthcare and empowered as they navigate the healthcare delivery system.”

[Also: Meaningful Measures show CMS, ONC commitment to deregulation]

For Verma, the mission is personal.

Her husband suffered a cardiac event on a trip with the couple’s two children in August. After a number of tests, her husband was set to leave the hospital and Verma requested documents from the event. But the request was met with confusion.

“They all just kind of looked at me. The room got really quiet, and they kind of looked at each other,” said Verma. “And it was like, ‘we have no idea what to do here.’”

Verma left with a CD-ROM and paperwork that contained the diagnoses -- but not the results of the tests performed during his stay.

“That could have been the baseline,” said Verma. “And something in the future, if it is an issue, it would be nice to have those tests available. So when I look at it, that data should be our data. That is our information. And the patient should have that.”

“And so, when we talk about patient empowerment and patients first, this is what we are talking about,” she added.

CMS is hoping to accomplish this mission through a number of initiatives including what Verma called “digital seniors,” which ensures the older generation are receiving the right information about claims, quality, health plan and provider data in a preferred format.

The agency is also on a listening tour to gain perspective from providers on regulatory burden.

“Regulation is important: It’s important for quality; It’s important for program integrity, for value, safety,” said Verma. “But at some point, too much regulation can have a suffocating effect on the healthcare delivery system.”

“Across the board we are taking a hard look at the regulations that we are putting out, and we’re listening to folks,” she added. “We’re trying to get ideas about how we can reduce the regulatory impact.”

As part of that initiative, CMS is assessing quality measurements. The agency 
is trying to consolidate many measurements to ensure it’s aligned across the system.

Interoperability is also top of mind for CMS, as the agency deals with many “snowbird,” older patients, getting care from multiple facilities, explained Verma.

“I do think interoperability is critical,” said Verma. In the past, the agency focused on regulating cost and quality, but failed to involve the patient in those discussions. Patients need more information to make better decisions.

The agency is working on the shift into focusing on outcomes, and to do that, the information needs to come from the EHRs. Verma said that one hospital hired 18 to 20 people to be able to report.

“It actually kind of turned my stomach,” said Verma. “We've got to get the technology to come in parallel with where we want to go in terms of value.”

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Twitter: @JessieFDavis
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