LAS VEGAS—The nation's top healthcare information technology developers and many of their largest customers have committed to push interoperability, the Obama administration announced Monday.
The IT companies that made the pledge include Allscripts, Athenahealth, Cerner Corp., Epic Systems Corp. and Meditech, according to the announcement made by HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell during the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society convention in Las Vegas.
The 17 vendors involved provide EHR and other IT systems to 90% of U.S. hospitals. Their goal will be to make it easier for patients to use the information in their EHRs.
Participants agreed to three things, Burwell said. First, they said they would help patients more easily access their electronic health information and transfer it to any other provider or data user.
“We need to do better to unlock data,” Burwell said. A patient should trust his or her data can be moved where they want, when they want, she said.
Second, the group pledged to help providers share individuals' health information among themselves and with their patients whenever permitted by federal privacy laws and to not block electronic health information. “High fees or restrictive legal arrangements slow down our progress,” Burwell said.
The group also promised to implement “federally recognized, national interoperability standards and practices and adopt best practices, including those related to privacy and security.” Those policies include the use of standardized apps "to make it easier for consumers to access their data,” Burwell said.
Provider participants include Ascension Health, Geisinger Health System, HCA, Intermountain Healthcare and Kaiser Permanente. The professional organizations include the American Medical Association, American Hospital Association, American Academy of Family Physicians and American Health Information Management Association.
In late December, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology at HHS released its newest iteration of an “advisory” on interoperability standards as “a single resource for those looking for federally recognized, national interoperability standards and guidance.”
Burwell said health IT systems provide “crucial support” for providers through easy access to data and analytics in an effort to see the “big picture” of healthcare.
As an example, Burwell noted that Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha at Hurley Medical Center in Flint, Mich., used an EHR to compare lead levels in children in her community with those of young patients elsewhere.
She quickly discovered the percentage of children in Flint with elevated lead levels “doubled, and even tripled in certain cases,” Burwell said.
“Today's commitments are a critical first step,” Burwell said. “I look forward to all we will accomplish together, this week and beyond."
HHS will check back in the fall to see how the companies are working toward the goal.
AHIMA CEO Lynn Thomas Gordon lauded Burwell's announcement.
“AHIMA believes these three principles will make a significant and meaningful difference in making sure health information is available where and when it's needed,” Gordon said.
While Premier, the Charlotte, N.C.-based group purchasing company has joined the pledge, its leadership is pushing for legislation to enforce the goal of interoperability.
"We support a public rating system of vendors' technology based on its performance on outcomes measures of usability, functionality and interoperability," said Blair Childs, senior vice president of public affairs. "We also support the granting authority to investigate and fine vendors who engage in information blocking."
President Barack Obama just last week asked the healthcare industry to start sharing more data as part of the effort to find successful individualized therapies based on genetic information.
In a separate statement Monday, HHS announced plans to form a Health Care Industry Cybersecurity Task Force as called for in the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act of 2015.
“Establishment of this task force will build on our work to keep systems secure and to provide information to improve preparedness for cybersecurity threats affecting the healthcare industry," the HHS statement said. Nominations are being solicited through March 9 at [email protected].