The federal government’s health IT priorities: What to watch

Rebecca Vesely

About Rebecca Vesely

Rebecca Vesely is AHCJ's topic leader on health information technology and a freelance writer. She has written about health, science and medicine for AFP, the Bay Area News Group, Modern Healthcare, Wired, Scientific American online and many other news outlets.

Top federal officials on health information technology outlined their priorities for the sector in a press call this week.

The takeaway was that they would like to see less regulatory burden for providers and help foster information sharing among trusted health care entities.

Heath care reporters will be able to see whether these priorities bear fruit in the next few years by watching progress at local hospitals and medical groups in their ability to share patient data with one another and make that data actionable. Another barometer of success is if physicians complain less about onerous requirements around health IT.

That’s a tall order. But the new administration in recent weeks has offered some initial relief to physicians who must show care quality gains and IT adoption next year.

A recently released proposed rule on MACRA requirements for physicians participating in the Medicare program offers wider flexibility and excludes more solo physicians and small practices from the requirements in 2018. The proposed rule is open for public comment until late August.

Fostering greater sharing of patient information among providers is a more difficult task. National Coordinator Donald Rucker, M.D., described interoperability (the secure sharing of patient health information among trusted parties) as an “extremely tough issue.”

Seamless data exchange in health care akin to what people experience on their smartphones should be possible, Rucker said.

The ONC will hold three public meetings (dates to be determined), and a public comment period, to craft a trusted exchange framework, as mandated in the 21st Century Cures Act, officials said on the call.

Also to watch is the ONC’s ability to move the health care industry in the right direction if it sees its budget cut.

In addition, this week the House Appropriations Committee released a draft bill for FY18 that reduces the ONC budget next fiscal year by $22 million, to about $38 million (and in line with the Trump Administration’s budget request).

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