Many healthcare providers are holding medical records hostage by denying patients access to their own health data.

That’s the message CMS Administrator Seema Verma delivered on Wednesday in a speech at The Commonwealth Club of California in San Francisco.

“The use of electronic health records has merely replaced paper silos with electronic ones, while providers—and the patients they serve—still have difficulty obtaining health records,” Verma told the audience.

Seema Verma
Seema Verma

Improving the mechanisms by which electronic health information is exchanged thus becomes one of the main levers to give patients better access to data, she contends.

“We must drive our system to an interoperable one where IT systems work seamlessly with each other, just as cell phones work today,” Verma says. “This will allow patients to take their data with them as they move through the healthcare system and ensure that their providers have all of the information possible to make the right diagnosis and treatment for their patients.”

Verma noted that CMS announced in March the launch of the MyHealthEData initiative—led by the White House Office of American Innovation—to put patients in control of their own health data.

Also See: Fed initiative to put patients in control of their health data

According to Verma, CMS is “using every lever” it can to “make it clear that the patient owns their data and they must have access to their information.” Toward that end, she said the agency has proposed both penalties and incentives for providers to ensure that the healthcare industry takes the Trump administration seriously.

“But, MyHealthEData is more than just patients and doctors getting healthcare records,” Verma added. “It’s about driving a new era of digital health, one that will unleash data to trigger innovation, and advance research to cure diseases and provide more evidence-based treatment guidelines that ultimately will drive down costs and improve health outcomes.”

As part of the MyHealthEData initiative, CMS is leveraging HL7’s Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) standard and OAuth 2.0 security profiles so that Medicare beneficiaries will be able to access and share their claims data in a universal digital format.

“This new tool is called Blue Button 2.0,” said Verma. “More than 100 innovators—many in the Bay area—have since joined the program, and the first wave of new applications will begin to revolutionize healthcare. We’ve put our Medicare Advantage plans on notice that they too need to give beneficiaries access to their data in way that patients can use it.”

She announced that CMS is releasing Medicare Advantage datasets and in 2019 the agency expects to make Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program data available as well.

“These data sets will provide researchers and innovators with data on a new population of 70 million beneficiaries,” concluded Verma. “Once all this data becomes available, advancements in artificial intelligence will make it possible to analyze the data at the speed of light, and the possibilities are endless. Already, precision medicine is producing groundbreaking treatments tailor-made to a patient’s genetic code. Imagine how much faster we can go at developing new treatments when we have more complete data, a patient’s entire health history from birth onwards, right at our fingertips.”

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