ONC: Barriers remain to interoperable access to health information

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Despite widespread adoption of health information technology, healthcare data is not always accessible across systems and by patients, providers and payers.

That’s the assessment of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT when it comes to the electronic use and exchange of healthcare information nationally.

ONC summarized the current state of HIT and barriers to data sharing as part of its annual report to Congress, which was released this week.

“Today, most hospitals and healthcare providers have a digital footprint,” states ONC’s report. “However, hurdles to progress still remain.”

Specifically, the agency made three observations about the lack of access for end users:

  • Despite the individual right to access health information about themselves established by the HIPAA Privacy Rule, patients often lack access to their own health information, which hinders their ability to manage their health and shop for medical care at lower prices.
  • Providers often lack access to patient data at the point of care, particularly when multiple providers maintain different pieces of data, own different systems or use health IT solutions purchased from different developers.
  • Payers often lack access to clinical data on groups of covered individuals to assess the value of services provided to their customers.

Also See: National Coordinator for HIT gives country C- grade on interoperability

ONC’s report made three recommendations for future actions the Department of Health and Human Services plans to accelerate progress.

  • Focus on improving interoperability and upgrading technical capabilities of health IT, so patients can securely access, aggregate and move their health information using their smartphones (or other devices) and providers can easily send, receive and analyze patient data.
  • Increase transparency in data-sharing practices and strengthen technical capabilities of health IT so payers can access population-level clinical data to promote economic transparency and operational efficiency to lower the cost of care and administrative costs.
  • Prioritize improving health IT and reducing documentation burden, time inefficiencies and hassle for providers, so they can focus on their patients rather than their computers.

“Interoperable access underpins HHS’s efforts to pursue a healthcare system where data are available when and where needed,” states the report. “Patients, healthcare providers and payers with appropriate access to health information can use modern computing solutions to generate value from the data. Improved interoperability can strengthen market competition, result in greater quality, safety and value for the healthcare system, and enable patients, healthcare providers and payers to experience the benefits of health IT.”

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