$87M in IT enhancements to ‘unlock’ data, improve health center quality

HHS will provide $87 million in funding to support information technology (IT) enhancements in 1,310 health centers throughout the United States and its territories. The funding is intended to support the health centers’ transition to value-based models of care, promote information-sharing to improve quality of care, allow the centers to use information to support better decisions, and increase their engagement in transforming delivery systems. HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell stated that the funding “will help unlock health care data and put it to work.”

Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) health centers provide comprehensive preventive and primary health care to patients regardless of their ability to pay, adjusting fees based on that ability. Section 10503 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148) established an $11 billion, five-year Community Health Center (CHC) Fund to strengthen the centers, which was extended by the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) (P.L. 114-10) of 2015. Funding for the IT enhancements comes from the CHC Fund.

Health centers that use the funding to purchase or upgrade electronic health record (EHR) systems must ensure that the technology is certified by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC).

Transparency websites give health IT purchasers clear view of products

Purchasers of certified health information technology (IT) have access to information about health IT products’ costs and limitations via two new websites maintained by the HHS Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC). The 2015 Edition Health IT Final rule required developers to disclose information about known material limitations and types of costs associated with their products and to make an attestation as to whether they will voluntarily take additional actions to increase transparency regarding their products and business practices. The information is available on the ONC’s Certified Health IT Developer Transparency website, as well as on the upgraded health IT product list.

Mandatory disclosures

The Final rule (80 FR 62602, October 16, 2015) mandated developer disclosures so that purchasers could better understand obstacles and costs that they might face, allowing them to compare and knowledgeably select products. Statements must be written in detailed, plain language. Because customers can make more informed choices based on the disclosed information, developers have more incentives to improve upon their products and to refrain from engaging in information blocking, which is deliberate or unreasonable interference with the exchange of electronic health information.

Voluntary attestation

Earlier in 2016, companies that provide 90 percent of electronic health records (EHRs) used by hospitals nationwide made an interoperability pledge, agreeing to improve consumer access, refrain from blocking and ensure transparency, and implement federally recognized interoperability standards. “Nearly all developers” who made the earlier pledge have voluntarily attested, pursuant to the requirement set forth in the Final rule, that they will take additional actions to promote transparency, including making information about their business practices available to potential customers and requestors. The Final rule also allowed developers to attest that they will not take additional voluntary actions.

ONC-Authorized Certification Bodies (ONC-ACB) will monitor developers to ensure that they are “reporting accurate and compliant disclosures.” Developers who fail to do so will be subject to corrective action, including potential termination of certification.

EHR adoption up, ONC discussing further plans at national convention

Almost all hospitals have implemented certified electronic health record (EHR) systems, a notable increase from 2008 survey data. In order to further the efforts to ensure transmission of health information between providers, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) will convene with public and private sector parties at its 2016 annual meeting, where sessions will educate those attending on current advancements and future plans.

Increased adoption

According to the ONC’s May data brief, 96 percent of reporting non-federal acute care hospitals had certified EHR systems in 2015. Eight of 10 small, rural, and critical access hospitals possessed at least basic EHR technology, although only about half of children’s hospitals and 15 percent of psychiatric hospitals had done so. Across all states, at least 6 out of 10 non-federal acute care hospitals had adopted basic EHR, a significant increase since 2008 when most either reported none or less than 20 percent.

Future of health IT

The annual meeting’s agenda includes presentations on the federal government’s commitment to better health, advances in interoperability, research, and health innovation. The government is particularly interested in precision medicine, which ensures that treatments are individualized to each patient’s needs. The presentations also cover the health IT response to the Zika virus, advancing health IT for Medicaid programs, and cybersecurity.