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Are we there yet? Delivering on the promise of digitizing healthcare information

Jon Moore (jon.moore@clearwatercompliance.com) is the Chief Risk Officer and Senior Vice President, Consulting Services, at Clearwater in Nashville, TN.

Several decades ago, the US healthcare industry started a journey in search of improved care and reduced costs by digitizing health information. Since then, there have been course corrections introduced through new legislation[1] and regulation,[2] as well as fuel fill-ups in the form of tens of billions of dollars in incentives for the meaningful use of certified healthcare technology.[3] Nevertheless, today it is not clear if the industry is any closer to arriving at its hoped-for destination. Or is it?

On May 1, 2020, the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) published two final rules in the Federal Register targeted at improving interoperability[4] and patient access to health information.[5] One rule was from HHS’ Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information (ONC) and another from its Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

In its March 9, 2020, news release announcing the final rules, HHS stated that “these final rules mark the most extensive healthcare data sharing policies the federal government has implemented, requiring both public and private entities to share health information between patients and other parties while keeping that information private and secure.”[6] The US healthcare industry is already feeling the impact of these rules. Many believe that the long-hoped-for destination of improved care and reduced cost is finally in sight. Others fear that this latest turn will only lead to increased costs and decreased privacy and security of patients’ electronic health information.

This article will reflect on the road the healthcare industry has traveled to get to this point. It will examine why the latest government policy turned away from promoting the adoption of healthcare technology and toward promoting interoperability of that technology. The review will examine how that turn is expressed in the requirements of the new rules and concerns raised at the potential impact of the regulations on the privacy and security of electronic health information. Finally, it will take a look ahead at the possible implications for the industry.

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