HIT leaders buoyed by Price confirmation as HHS head

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Today’s Senate confirmation of Rep. Tom Price, MD (R-Ga.) to be the next Secretary of Health and Human Services is generating positive reactions from healthcare information technology groups.

While Senate Democrats voted along party lines against Price’s nomination because of concerns about his strong support for repealing the Affordable Care Act, health IT stakeholders generally see his combined legislator and physician experience as a big plus for taking the helm at HHS.

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In particular, they point to the fact that as a member of Congress, Price introduced the Meaningful Use Hardship Relief Act of 2015 (H.R. 3940) and was an early co-sponsor of the FLEX-IT Act (H.R. 5001) to ease the burdens on providers in adopting HIT so that they can better focus on patient care.

“We’ve turned many physicians and other providers into data entry clerks, and it detracts from their productivity and their ability to provide quality care,” Price told senators during a confirmation hearing.

That’s the kind of testimony that delighted industry groups, who were quick to praise his Senate confirmation and express their desire to work closely with Price at HHS.

Robert Tennant, director of health IT policy at the Medical Group Management Association, contends that as a practicing physician, Price was one of the “true experts on Capitol Hill” when it came to policy issues involving HIT, Meaningful Use and the challenges that doctors face with this technology.

“He brings to the table a very unique set of skills that we hope will translate into a more physician-centric policy when it comes to health IT,” said Tennant.

“As a physician, we believe Secretary Price understands the value of health IT and will work to advance policies that foster innovations in healthcare,” adds Meg Marshall, Cerner’s senior director of public policy. “We appreciate and support his thoughtful approach to ensure the safety, usability and interoperability of health IT, and his focus to correlate regulatory activities with improved health and care of individuals and their communities.”

Digital systems and their use within real-world healthcare delivery should benefit from Price’s lead at HHS, says Charles Stellar, president and CEO of the Workgroup for Electronic Data Interchange.

“With his practical first-hand experience as a practicing clinician, and his understanding of the role HIT plays in the care delivery process, Dr. Price brings to the position of HHS Secretary a unique set of skills. We believe Dr. Price is in an excellent position to facilitate the type of changes necessary to eliminate the many burdensome and costly manual administrative processes that plague our system,” Stellar adds.

“As a practicing physician and proven congressional policy expert in the area of electronic health records and other health IT, we expect Dr. Price to focus on facilitating health IT interoperability to develop a more effective and secure process of sharing patient information and streamlining electronic data interchange for both clinical and administrative purposes,” Stellar says.

Sasha TerMaat, chair of the Electronic Health Record Association and director at Epic, congratulated Price on his confirmation and said EHRA looks forward to working with him and his staff in continued collaboration to advance HIT.

“Health IT has the potential to further Dr. Price’s goal of reducing physicians’ documentation burden, as well as to advance our shared goals of widespread interoperability and further technology innovation to support healthcare providers as they navigate delivery and payment evolution,” said TerMaat.

Likewise, Jeff Smith, vice president of public policy for the American Medical Informatics Association, expects that Price’s “working knowledge of many programs that have influenced health IT in the last few years” will be a tremendous asset in his new job leading HHS.

“He and several of his staffers joining him at HHS have been part of numerous Meaningful Use and MACRA conversations,” observed Smith. “This means that stakeholders looking to improve policies related to health IT won’t have to start from scratch. I expect informed conversations around the value of health IT, and nuanced discussions around how to ensure our $34 billion in taxpayer investment translate to usable, interoperable, secure and safe IT systems.”

According to Robert Horne, executive director of Health IT Now, Price’s confirmation as HHS Secretary provides a unique opportunity to discuss and resolve health IT issues.

“At a time when the Meaningful Use program is anything but meaningful for patients and providers, Secretary Price has an opportunity to rethink how the federal agencies should support healthcare,” said Horne. “We hope that Secretary Price uses his authority to make the Meaningful Use program less onerous on providers and IT vendors so that better products reach patients faster. We also hope that Secretary Price scales back some of the actions taken by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology during the last administration, specifically the Enhanced Oversight and Accountability final rule.”

The Enhanced Oversight and Accountability Rule codified modifications and new requirements under the ONC Health IT Certification Program in an effort to better protect public health and safety as well strengthen the accountability and transparency of certified HIT.

However, Horne contends that ONC overstepped its statutory authority by moving forward with direct review of uncertified functionalities and products in addition to certified products, and that by focusing on safety issues, the agency has encroached on the regulatory functions of other federal agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration.

For its part, the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives is looking forward to working closely with the Trump administration to “pursue policies that reduce the regulatory burden on healthcare providers and help us continue to use health IT to transform care delivery,” the group said in a statement.

Matthew Weinstock, director of communications and public relations at CHIME, took comfort in the fact that during his confirmation hearing Price mentioned the need to advance policies that will optimize the use of HIT.

“We couldn’t agree more,” said Weinstock. “Health IT is an essential underpinning for delivering high-quality patient care. Through robust health IT systems, we are better able to give clinicians real-time information at the bedside and connect with patients in more meaningful ways. As was discussed during his hearing, though, some roadblocks remain. We need to create a truly interoperable network. Reimbursement policies should encourage expansion of telemedicine. And, we must all stay vigilant as we shore up this critical infrastructure against cyber attacks.”

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