Verma: U.S. healthcare system is a communication disaster

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Despite the federal government spending more than $36 billion to get providers to adopt electronic health records, data is trapped in siloes which is hindering the industry’s transition to value-based care.

That’s the message Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, delivered on Monday to the annual conference of the Strategic Health Information Exchange Collaborative (SHIEC), representing health information exchanges across the country.

“We are not able to fully leverage our $36 billion investment and the full potential of EHRs to transform the United States healthcare system,” Verma told the SHIEC audience. “Imagine if the government paid for everyone to have a cell phone, but you could only call people who had the same carrier. It would be a communication disaster. That is what we have today in our healthcare system, a communication disaster.”

Also See: Verma: Many providers are holding patient medical records hostage

“We can now send information across the globe in less than a few seconds, except of course, if that information is a patient’s healthcare record,” the CMS chief lamented. “For that important, and at times lifesaving information, we still use antiquated fax machines.”

Verma’s dire assessment comes as results from a new survey show that almost a third of technology executives at U.S. hospitals and health systems believe their data-sharing efforts are insufficient—even within their own organizations.

In the survey, conducted by HIMSS Media on behalf of the Center for Connected Medicine, less than four in 10 executives indicated that they are successfully sharing data with other health systems.

Further, four in 10 executives contend that interoperability challenges are limiting their efforts to improve workflow and enable new models of care, while only 27 percent of those surveyed indicated that their organizations’ work to improve interoperability had enabled them to reduce the cost of care.

At the same time, almost 60 percent of execs said that moving to a single integrated EHR was the most common step undertaken to address interoperability challenges.

“This survey supports other research we have conducted at HIMSS which shows that healthcare is making strides advancing interoperability,” said Janet King, HIMSS Media’s senior director of market insights. “However, this research also suggests providers feel most successful at sharing data within their own health systems, and less often report success sharing medical data with payers, patients or other health systems and partners.

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