The Federal Trade Commission and Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology are collaborating to promote greater competition in health IT markets.

According to an Oct. 7 blog co-authored by Jodi Daniel, director of ONC’s Office of Policy, health IT markets are “not functioning as efficiently as they could be.” This is problematic, Daniel says, as providers continue to “migrate toward new business models that depend on health IT and health information exchange for quality measurement, analytics, population health management, and risk-based contracting.”

In March, FTC held a two-day public workshop examining the challenges to healthcare competition which revealed a number of concerns. Among the concerns cited by participants at the workshop was a lack of transparency and comparability for health IT products and services, including accurate and complete information about costs and limitations. “Without this information, health IT purchasers may find it difficult to exercise informed choice in the marketplace, despite the availability of competing products and services,” states the blog.

There is also a lack of interoperability across health IT products and services, which may limit the potential of health IT and HIE to support improvements in health and care delivery. “As market-based reforms shift provider incentives towards new care delivery models that reward quality and value, there is a risk that some providers may find themselves ‘locked in’ to rigid technologies or information sharing networks,” according to ONC. “As a result, these providers may find it prohibitively expensive to switch to new technologies that offer superior value, capabilities, and opportunities for delivering higher quality and more efficient care.”

Business practices that inhibit or block the electronic sharing or transfer of health information are also a concern, particularly developers or providers who restrict information exchange with users of other EHR products or HIE services. “Such conduct could include policies or practices that prevent or make it difficult to establish connections (or ‘interfaces’) to other systems,” states the blog. “It could also include price or other contractual terms that limit ‘data portability’ in the event that a provider decides to switch to a different health IT vendor’s product.”

ONC says it intends to work more closely with FTC in the coming months to understand these and other competitive issues involving health IT. “In consultation with FTC, ONC will formulate policies that advance patient care through competition and innovation,” states the blog. “Government policy may be able to improve transparency, promote interoperability, create incentives for quality, and reduce barriers to competition and innovation.”

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