One for the patients, and interoperability.

There’s an announcement that went out a week or so ago from the USA’s Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Not much has been written about it. I thought the wording of the statement was interesting enough to spend a few minutes talking about it here.

Essentially, CMS has a regulatory requirement in place that states that providers have to maintain patient health records electronically. They’re using a phased approach toward getting everyone there, and that requirement hasn’t been met by many, mostly because of difficulty in implementing systems to handle this. As a result, they pushed back the date for provider compliance with this rule to January 1, 2018. That’s the bad news.

The good news? Well, patient health records for those on Medicaid (receiving federal or state healthcare assistance) and Medicare (federal healthcare program for U.S. residents 65 and older) will all be electronic by 2018. Also, there is a significant push by CMS to make the systems housing patient information available and accessible to patients. As in, no more wondering what is in your folder, but actually knowing what’s there.

According to the fact sheet distributed by CMS (click HERE for the full text):

”We want actionable electronic health information available when and where it matters most and for health care providers and consumers to be able to readily, safely, and securely exchange information.”

There’s incentive in this too. Eligible physicians, clinics, and hospitals who move to electronic health records receive incentive payments from the government for doing so ahead of schedule. They get their payments cut if they fail to comply by the CMS deadline.

But there were additional items that really struck me in this announcement, and I’m just going to quote them here one at a time.

”For example, the regulations will:
Shift the paradigm so health IT becomes a tool for care improvement, not an end in itself.”

CMS is focusing on using technology to improve patient outcomes, but not in a “set it and forget it” kind of way. They want health records to be useful in a patient’s care plan.

”Address health information blocking and interoperability between providers and with patients. Commenters recommended we emphasize measures that focus on interoperability instead of those that focus on data entry. We modified the measures so that more than 60 percent of measures rely upon exchange of health information, compared to 33 percent previously.”

Anyone who’s been to one doctor for one test, then another doctor who has wanted to perform the same test can tell you that being able to exchange data between providers (in a safe, secure manner, of course) will save a lot of time and money for providers, for patients, for insurance companies. Interoperability is also huge in a hospital setting, or when a patient may not be able to speak for themselves.

”We are Transitioning to a New and More Responsive Regulatory Framework”

Part of that is due to passage of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015, and part of that is due to the fact that, well, this is the 21st century, and we all need to use technology where it can help us. It’s a no-brainer, right?

Here’s something else to remember: If the federal government is moving toward a more patient outcome based, interoperable, responsive framework, it’s much more likely that individual providers of healthcare will do so too. Seeing how this all works out over the next five years or so will tell doctors, hospitals, and health systems what works and what doesn’t about operating with health IT as “a tool for care improvement, not an end in itself”. My hope is that they will improve upon that idea. They also have incentive in keeping us all alive longer.

So here we are… a little blip on the radar screen of our medical lives. But a significant blip, if the goals associated with these regulations actually come to pass. I’d be okay with that, and the sooner the better.

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