News Feature | June 27, 2014

Senate Committee Asks: What Is The Best Use For Healthcare Data?

By Megan Williams, contributing writer

Best Use For Healthcare Data?

Healthcare may traditionally lag behind when it comes to technology, but the importance of, and vulnerabilities around healthcare data have pushed it to the forefront of the data transparency discussion.

Industry’s Chance To Speaks Out

This month, the Senate Finance Committee sent letters to about 100 industry stakeholders, in search of information on how the federal government could improve how it uses healthcare data.

The request falls in line with initiatives put in place by regulations like HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and HITECH (Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act) that encourage forward-thinking changes in healthcare, like making shopping for doctors easier for patients, helping providers deliver a higher quality of care, and helping payors design more effective care delivery models. The letters specifically asked:

  • What data sources should be made more broadly available?
  • How, in what form, and for what purposes should this data be conveyed?
  • What reforms would help reduce the unnecessary fragmentation of health care data?
  • What reforms would help improve the accessibility and usability of health care data for consumers, payers, and providers?
  • What barriers stand in the way of stakeholders using existing data sources more effectively and what reforms should be made to overcome these barriers?

Committee chair, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), had spoken previously about data transparency at an AARP event. “Data can personalize care in ways that have never been done before. We already know that the same treatment can have very different impacts on patients based on their genes, their behavior and where they live. With access to big datasets about patients they treat, doctors are beginning to find ways to tailor their treatments to meet these unique needs. Giving these innovators access to Medicare data will surely increase their analytic firepower.”

What This Means For Solutions Providers

These initiatives alone hold merit, but their implementation will have an impact on what you offer your current clients, and what clients may come to you looking for in the future.

This means that current technologies, like EHR tracking, will continue to be invaluable in the industry.

Going forward though, many gaps are found. The Health IT Policy Committee held a public, online hearing on September 30 of last year to discuss observations about the technology environment around healthcare data transparency. The committee found that

  • The industry does not have a cost-effective, technical mechanism for implementing the HITECH Act. Current audit train technologies are unable to distinguish between internal access and external disclosure. Audit trails as they now stand, are designed to track security-related events and are not built to produce reports designed for patient use.
  • Patient demand and utility is currently not very well understood. Before that understanding is achieved, it would be of little benefit to start implementing new technologies intended to improve data transparency.
  • Patients should be provided with full investigations in the case of inappropriate access of their information.

For solutions providers interested in staying on top of these issues, it will be imperative that they keep up with Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) updates to regulations such as HIPAA and HITECH, but also that they follow and prepare themselves for advancements in EHR technology, while being mindful of patient experience while engaging with clients.