Senate is flooded with data suggestions

A wide array of industry groups weighs in with ideas for making smarter use of patient information
By Mike Miliard
11:42 AM

Comments from the Premier healthcare alliance in late August were just the latest in a deluge of opinions and wish lists inundating Capitol Hill, after two senators asked for input on interoperability and data sharing.

For the past few years, Democratic Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden and Republican Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, through their work on the Senate Finance Committee, have been exploring ways to make Medicare claims and quality data more available and useful while still maintaining robust patient privacy protections.

This past June, they put out a call to providers, payers, patients and other healthcare stakeholders looking for ideas about ways to make data more transparent.

Such patient data is a "growing but largely untapped resource for accelerating improvements in healthcare quality and value," Wyden and Grassley wrote.

"This data has great potential for use by consumers who can be empowered to choose providers that best fit their specific needs; by providers who can improve and deliver higher-quality care; and by payers who can design the most efficient and effective delivery models."

Toward that end, they asked four questions:

1. What data sources should be made more broadly available?
2. How, in what form, and for what purposes should this data be conveyed?
3. What reforms would help reduce the unnecessary fragmentation of health care data? What reforms would improve the accessibility and usability of health care data for consumers, payers, and providers?
4. What barriers stand in the way of stakeholders using existing data sources more effectively, and what reforms should be made to overcome these barriers?

They may not have been expecting the flurry of comments that have come in as a result. Clearly, the request has struck a chord across the healthcare industry.

In a letter dated Aug. 18, Premier made the case that several data groups should be more broadly available. These include:

• Fee-for-service Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans' Administration, and Department of Defense (TRICARE) claims data
CMS data collected through the quality reporting programs;
• Clinical information drawn from electronic health records, "under appropriate circumstances and with appropriate usage restrictions when using patient-level data";
• Medical, pharmacy and behavioral health information, to allow more effective research within data use agreement limitations;
• Publicly funded healthcare data, de-identified according to HIPAA standards for research purposes.

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