Premier Inc., a healthcare alliance of 3,000 hospitals and 110,000 other providers, this week sent a letter to the Senate Finance Committee warning that the government’s efforts to bring transparency to the healthcare market by releasing data needs context to have value for consumers.

While noting that it has long promoted transparency in the healthcare industry, Premier cautioned senators that the “broad release of provider payment data, without proper context, explanation and linkages to quality and other factors, can lead to incomplete and inaccurate conclusions by patients and other users.” To empower patients to make educated decisions about their healthcare, the alliance urged lawmakers to “ensure that publicly-available data is accurate and actionable and will appropriately drive patients to higher quality and more efficient care.”

Earlier this year, Medicare publicly posted 2012 Part B payment information on more than 880,000 physicians and other billable professionals in all 50 states. According to Department of Health and Human Services, the data makes possible analyses to compare 6,000 types of services and procedures along with payments received by individual providers. HHS also asserts that the information allows comparisons by physician, specialty, location, the types of medical service and procedures delivered, Medicare payment, and submitted charges.
“For healthcare pricing transparency to be useful to consumers, prices at the point of service should be made publicly available, rather than ‘input prices,’” according to Premier. “However, information on prices must be coupled with information on quality--including patient experience, patient safety and clinical outcomes--to truly enable patients and purchasers to make informed decisions.”

When it comes to reducing unnecessary fragmentation of healthcare data and improving its accessibility and usability, Premier advocates requiring open and secure Application Programming Interfaces.

“Today the HIT/EHR systems are ‘locked’ away in proprietary systems, which hinders their ability to connect and exchange information with other systems, medical devices, and sensors along the care continuum, from the emergency room to the clinic and to the intensive care unit, for instance,” states the letter. “Requiring open APIs as a foundational and integral standard for healthcare data would reverse the current legacy state of locked systems and enable bi-directional and real time exchange of health data currently residing in Electronic Medical Record (EMR)/EHR systems.”

Premiers asserts that it may be necessary for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT to “lead, through government action, by requiring open APIs for data elements in the EHRs to be interoperable,” adding that it is “essential that we move as quickly as possible to open APIs.”

The company’s letter was in response to the committee’s solicitation for input from industry regarding access to and sharing of healthcare data.

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