If healthcare information technology is going to realize its full potential, the industry must overcome the challenges of interoperability, which are impeding the free flow of data, according to Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, MD.

Price made the remarks Thursday at the opening of the 2017 Health Datapalooza conference in Washington.

“Interoperability and the free flow of data are absolutely crucial to making the benefits as big as possible for our system and to make certain that we’re helping as many patients as we can,” Price said.

According to Price, the main roadblocks to interoperability are technology and the lack of incentives for providers and vendors.

To achieve true interoperability, he told the audience that healthcare must harness the industry’s technological ingenuity to “let the data flow” and allow innovation to “percolate,” as well as ensure that there are incentives for the interoperable exchange of electronic health information.

Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.)
Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) Bloomberg file photo

Price said he was encouraged by the fact that last year the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT was able to broker a commitment—in the form of voluntary pledge—from major EHR vendors, providers and industry groups to not block electronic health information, one of three commitments they made to improve HIT interoperability.

Also See: Vendors, provider organizations commit to improve EHR information sharing

Among the other core commitments that stakeholders agreed to as part of ONC’s pledge initiative was that they would implement federally recognized, national interoperability standards, policies, guidance and practices for electronic health information.

“A good number of stakeholders signed (the pledge) in 2016, which committed them to using those common standards and improving consumer access and halting practices that would deter and impede the free flow of data,” added Price. “We need to build on that and I challenge you all to challenge us to figure out how we can build on it.”

The HHS secretary reiterated that the Trump administration is “committed to doing all that we can to help align those incentives and promote true interoperability.”

At the same time, Price made the point that healthcare data is “about more than simply electronic medical records.” He emphasized that patient-generated data continues to explode, creating tremendous opportunities for achieving better health outcomes.

“It really is phenomenal,” Price concluded. “You think about the information that patients are going to be able to have on themselves in real time. It’s exciting stuff. And, we ought to be embracing that. We ought not to be putting roadblocks in the way.”

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