HHS, Epic, Cerner, top five private health systems commit to patient data access

By Jonah Comstock

US Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell announced today at HIMSS16 in Las Vegas a new joint commitment from a number of healthcare providers and health IT companies to make patients’ data more accessible, which includes a move to implement new interoperability standards.

The list of groups committed to the cause includes companies that provide 90 percent of the EHRs in the United States, among them Epic, Cerner, Allscripts, athenahealth and Meditech. It also includes the some of the largest private healthcare systems in the US including HCA, Community Health Systems, Ascension Health, Intermountain, Kaiser Permanente, Geisinger, Johns Hopkins, Partners, and Dignity as well as professional organizations and other stakeholder groups.

In her announcement, Secretary Burwell outlined a three-part commitment. The first part, consumer access, is a pledge “to help consumers easily and securely access their electronic health information, direct it to any desired location, learn how their information can be shared and used, and be assured that this information will be effectively and safely used to benefit their health and that of the community.” The second is an end to all forms of information blocking, and a requirement that physicians share health information with their patients and other providers when requested. The third is a promise to develop federally recognized national interoperability standards for EHR.

"Nearly every hospital uses EHRs, meaning there’s now a digital care footpront for almost everyone in this country," Burwell said. "But as we look at our current way of doing things, it often falls short in three areas. First, consumer access remains a challenge. It’s great to have an electronic record, but if that record can’t be easily accessed by doctors and patients because of faulty technology, then we aren’t consistently seeing a benefit. Second, the information is still too often knowlingly or unreasonable blocked whether because of business practices or misunderstandings of HIPAA. With these barriers information is stopped from flowing seamlessly to support patients when and where it matters. And finally, without an agreement on a common data albphabet, our technology is stuck speaking different languages. these improvements will enable us to move forward in cating a better, smarter, healthier healthcare delivery system."

The individual pledges include a number of health IT developers committing to using APIs and FHIR to make it easier to create EHR-compatible smartphone and tablet apps that can connect across different systems. 

Burwell also shared that Congress has introduced legislation to create a cybersecurity taskforce specifically focused on figuring out how to protect the healthcare industry from cyber attacks.

"We can all agree that the bedrock of an interoperable tech system is privacy and security," she said. "Cyberthreats endanger our national security and the privacy of millions of Americans."