Things are in full swing now that Congress is back in session. Big announcements were made by ONC with regards to patient data-matching and the FDA is seriously considering an agency-wide overhaul. And a new telehealth bill hopes to enable more cross-state telemedicine delivery. Welcome to the National Health IT Week edition of the Washington Debrief, covering what CIOs need to know from the week that was September 6-13, 2013. (Plus a preview of what’s to come in the NHIT Week ahead).
ONC Announces Work on Patient Data-Matching; CHIME Pledges to Aid Federal Effort
The Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) announced in a blog last week its support and commitment to identifying challenges and opportunities associated with patient data-matching. Patient data-matching is a foundational component to the exchange of electronic health information – which, in turn, is a critical component for improved care coordination and quality improvement. Despite years of development, no clear strategy has emerged to accurately and consistently match patient’s with their data across settings of care. “As we advance interoperability and health information exchange, we are delighted to see ONC take action to ensure the right data is matched with the right patient. This is a necessary, concrete step to bolster patient safety,” said CHIME President & CEO Russ Branzell.
CHIME has consistently identified the challenges of patient data-matching as a key barrier to interoperability, both to partners in federal agencies and to members of Congress. Current approaches to patient data-matching are manual, fraught with the potential for error and redundancy. “The fact that the ONC sees the need to investigate best practices acknowledges that current approaches are costly and inefficient, and a risk to patient safety,” Branzell continued in a statement. “We applaud ONC for their acknowledgement of this fundamental challenge and stand ready to aid in the effort.”
CHIME members that wish to be involved in the patient data-matching conversation are encouraged to join StateNet and the Patient Data-Matching Workgroup found on StateNet.
FDA Overhaul in the Works
News broke last week of an internal memo sent by Food and Drug Administration Margaret Hamburg asking her top managers to develop plans that would “vertically realign the agency.” According to the memo, Administrator Hamburg described a new FDA that had “commodity-based and vertically-integrated regulatory programs with well-defined leads, coherent policy and strategy development, well-designed and coordinated implementation, and a de-layered management structure.” Hamburg highlighted a slew of recent FDA laws, including the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, Food Safety Modernization Act, FDA Safety and Innovation Act and others in illustrating the need for more coordination among the agency's operations. She also noted the challenges posed by globalization, scientific innovation and the increased complexity of regulated products.
With the immerging possibility of greater FDA involvement in the regulation of health IT, this reorganization may have significant implications for electronic health records and the larger health IT industry. But long-time FDA observers note that such reorganizations rarely are without major challenges. CHIME Public Policy will remain engaged in this and other emerging policy issues.
Legislation & Politics
Telemedicine Bill Introduced in House
Two Representatives in the House introduced a bill to boost telemedicine last week. Representatives Devin Nunes (R-CA) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ) unveiled the “The TELEmedicine for MEDicare,” or TELE-MED, Act. (HR 3077), which allows Medicare providers to treat Medicare beneficiaries across state lines via telemedicine, without being required to obtain multiple state medical licenses. The bill would also require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to:
- Iissue guidance to help states harmonize definitions for “telemedicine services” and to
- Submit a report to Congress on HHS’ plans to expand use of web-based communications technologies for Medicare beneficiaries
The TELEMED Act has been referred to the House Ways & Means and Energy & Commerce Committees for further action.
National Health IT Week Preview
Sept. 16-20 marks the 8th Annual National Health IT Week (http://www.healthitweek.org/). During NHIT Week, hundreds of health IT stakeholders fly to Washington, DC to advocate for better health IT-related policies. Stakeholders that cannot come to DC for are encouraged to host an event locally at the state our regional level. Each year the event focuses on three “asks,” which are: Consistent Nationwide Patient Data Matching Strategy, Alignment of Healthcare Quality Reporting Requirements Across Federal Programs, and Consistent Adoption of Health IT Exchange Standards and Implementation Guidelines.