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GAO: HHS Needs More Specific Strategy Around HIE

March 26, 2014
by Gabriel Perna
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The Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) strategy surrounding health information exchange (HIE) is not specific enough for stakeholders to take action, according to a recent U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.

The report from the GAO looked at the challenges to the electronic exchange of health information, if any, that have been reported by providers and stakeholders. The organization conducted interviews in four states with ongoing HIE efforts. The main challenges cited were insufficient standards, concerns surrounding privacy, patient matching, and costs associated with the exchange.

In the report, GAO notes that officials from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) cited programs designed to address those challenges. Despite this, the stakeholders reproted to GAO that challenges continue to persist and it's unclear whether efforts will lead to widespread improvements in HIE.

The government has designed a strategy document, in August 2013, on how it expects to advance electronic health information exchange. However, GAO says that it’s not specific enough in terms of what “should be prioritized, what milestones the actions need to achieve, or when these milestones need to be accomplished.”

 “GAO recommends that CMS and ONC (1) develop and prioritize specific actions that HHS will take consistent with the principles in HHS's strategy to advance health information exchange, and (2) develop milestones with time frames for the actions to better gauge progress toward advancing exchange, with appropriate adjustments over time,” the agency wrote in the report.

The agency notes that this is especially important because Stage 3 of meaningful use focuses on improving outcomes and will begin this year. HHS, including ONC and CMS, concurred with GAO on those recommendations.

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