AAFP Opposes Direction Of Federal Patient Data Access Efforts

Posted on April 4, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Not long ago, a group of federal agencies announced the kickoff of the MyHealthEData initiative, an effort designed to give patients control of their data and the ability to take it with them from provider to provider. Participants in the initiative include virtually every agency with skin in the game, including HHS, ONC, NIH and the VA. CMS has also announced that it will be launching Medicare’s Blue Button 2.0, which will allow Medicare beneficiaries to access and share their health information.

Generally speaking, these programs sound okay, but the devil is always in the details. And according to the American Academy of Family Physicians, some of the assumptions behind these initiatives put too much responsibility on medical practices, according to a letter the group sent recently to CMS administrator Seema Verma.

The AAFP’s primary objection to these efforts is that they place responsibility for the adoption of interoperable health IT systems on physicians. The letter argues that instead, CMS should pressure EHR vendors to meet interoperability standards.

Not only that, it’s critical to prevent the vendors from charging high prices for relevant software upgrades and maintenance, the AAFP argues. “To realize meaningful patient access to their data, we strongly urge CMS to require EHR vendors to provide any new government-required updates such systems without additional cost to the medical practice,” the group writes.

Other requests from the AAFP include that CMS:

  • Drop all HIT utilization measures now that MIPS has offered more effective measures of quality, cost and practice improvement
  • Implement the core measure sets developed by the Core Quality Measures Collaborative
  • Penalize healthcare organizations that don’t share health information appropriately
  • Focus on improving HIT usability first, and then shift its attention to interoperability
  • Work to make sure that admission, discharge and transfer data are interoperable

Though the letter calls CMS to task to some degree, my sense is that the AAFP shares many of the agency’s goals. The physician group and CMS certainly have reason to agree that if patients share data, everybody wins.  The AAFP also suggests measures which foster administrative simplification, such as reducing duplicative lab tests, which CMS must appreciate.

Still, if the group of federal organizations thinks that doctors can be forced to make interoperability work, they’ve got another thing coming. It’s hard to argue the matter how willing they are to do so, most practices have nowhere near the resources needed to take a leading role in fostering health data interoperability.

Yes, CMS, ONC and other agencies involved with HIT must be very frustrated with vendors. There don’t seem to be enough sanctions available to prevent them from slow-walking through every step of the interoperability process. But that doesn’t mean you can simply throw up your hands and say “Let’s have the doctors do it!”