Over the next few months, Jacob Reider will serve as the interim National Coordinator for Healthcare IT while the search continues for Farzad Mostashari’s permanent replacement.
What advice would I give to the next national coordinator?
David Blumenthal led ONC during a period of remarkable regulatory change and expanding budgets. He was the right person for the “regulatory era.”
Farzad Mostashari led ONC during a period of implementation when resources peaked, grants were spent, and the industry ran marathons every day to keep up with the pace of change. He was the right person for the “implementation era”
The next coordinator will preside over the “consolidate our gains” era. Grants largely run out in January 2014. Budgets are likely to shrink because of sequestration and the impact of fiscal pressures (when the Federal government starts operating again). Many regulatory deadlines converge in the next coordinator’s term.
The right person for this next phase must listen to stakeholder challenges, adjust timelines, polish existing regulations, ensure the combined burden of regulations from many agencies in HHS do not break the camel’s back, and keep Congress informed every step of the way. I did not include parting the Red Sea, so maybe there is a mere human who could do this.
What tools does the coordinator have in an era of shrinking budgets?
At present, Meaningful Use Stage 2, ICD-10, the Affordable Care Act, HIPAA Omnibus Rule, and numerous CMS imperatives have overlapping timelines, making it nearly impossible for provider organizations to maintain operations while complying with all the new requirements.
Can resources be expanded?
In the wake of the National Coordinator’s announcement that he is departing, there has been a flurry of tweets, blog posts, impromptu online polls, and conjecture about the most likely successor. To date, none of these conversations has resulted in a thoughtful assessment of the set of characteristics that would represent the ideal candidate, nor has there been any thorough review of the most likely candidates in the context of these attributes. The need for a rapid transition to a successor is well understood by all – yet there has been no indication that the Obama administration is in a hurry. Let’s hope that we can evolve them toward a greater sense of urgency. The fragility of ONC – and the importance of its health – can’t be overlooked.
Let’s consider some history:
The first two National Coordinators, David Brailer and Rob Kolodner, were appointed before ARRA. The agency was small, focused largely on certification (through CCHIT), standards (through HITSP) and policy. When ARRA arrived, David Blumenthal, a thoughtful, deliberate, policy-savvy internal medicine physician from Boston was brought in to lead the rapid expansion of health IT that was facilitated by the HITECH Act.
ONC expanded under Blumenthal from a team of ~ 30 people to a team of >100 in the two years that he was at the helm, and the agency published the 2011 certification criteria regulations, and collaborated with CMS to publish the regulations that defined stage 1 of the Meaningful Use incentive program. The policy foundation was that the three-stage program – to be implemented over six years – would evolve the nation’s care delivery system by causing adoption of EHR technology (stage 1) and then exchange of clinical information electronically (stage 2) and finally improved clinical outcomes (stage 3).
Farzad Mostashari, who joined Blumenthal as the Deputy National Coordinator early in Dr Blumenthal’s tenure, was quickly named as Blumenthal’s successor when Blumenthal announced his resignation in the Spring of 2011. Both Mostashari and Blumenthal pushed hard for Mostashari’s appointment – so that the consistency, focus and forward momentum of the organization could be maintained.
And so it was. Under ARRA, adoption of EHRs has skyrocketed. The CMS MU Stage 2 regulations and the ONC 2014 certification regulations were published, and the size of the agency has doubled to over 150 people. Recognizing the need for experienced partners to assist him in leading a larger agency – and growing national reliance on health IT and an essential component of the care delivery ecosystem – Mostashari hired David Muntz as the “Principal Deputy” (essentially the COO of the agency), Jacob Reider as Chief Medical Officer (leading a team of clinicians focused on quality and safety) and Judy Murphy as the Deputy National Coordinator for Programs and Policy (adding internal coordination support for ONC programs).
An unfathomably complex entity such as a health system grows over time like a city. Right now, communications and data usage in the US healthcare system is a bit like a medieval town, with new streets and squares popping up in unpredictable places and no clear paths between them. Growth in health information has accelerated tremendously over the past few years with the popularity of big data generally, and we are still erecting structures wherever seems convenient, without building codes.
In some cities, as growth reaches the breaking point, commissioners step in. Neighborhoods are razed, conduits are laid in the ground for electricity and plumbing, and magnificent new palaces take the place of the old slums. But our health infomation system lacks its Baron Haussmann. The only force that could seize that role–the Office ofthe National Coordinator–has been slow to impose order, even as it funds the creation of open standards. Today, however, we celebrate growth and imagine a future of ordered data.
The health data forum that started today (Health Datapalooza IV) celebrated all the achievements across government and industry in creating, using, and sharing health data.
Useful data, but not always usable
I came here asking two essential questions of people I met: “What data sources do you find most useful now?” and “What data is missing that you wish you had?” The answer to first can be found at a wonderful Health Data All-Stars site maintained by the Health Data Consortium,which is running the palooza.
The choices on this site include a lot of data from the Department of Health and Human Services, also available on their ground-breaking HealthData.gov site, but also a number of data sets from other places. The advantage of the All-Stars site is that it features just a few (fifty) sites that got high marks from a survey conducted among a wide range of data users, including government agencies, research facilities, and health care advocates. Continue reading…
The EHR vendor lock-in business model is under attack by frustrated physicians and patients and the reality that health care cost and quality are more opaque than ever. Doug Fridsma of ONC politely talks of the need to move from vertical integration of health care services to horizontal integration where patients can choose with their feet. Farzad Mostashari calls for moral behavior and price transparency. The Society for Participatory Medicine says “Gimme My DAM Data” and Patient Privacy Rights asks HHS to allow physicians to prescribe health IT without interference from the institution or the vendor.
The vendors’ response is a charm offensive called CommonWell Health Alliance with a pastel .org website. The website is presumably the official source of information about CommonWell and it lays out the members’ strategy to preserve the vendor lock-in business model for a few $Billion more. Ok, maybe more than a few.
The core of the CommonWell strategy is to avoid giving patients their data in a timely and convenient way.
Anyone who understands the importance of continuity of care knows that health information exchange is essential. How are we supposed to cut waste and duplication from the healthcare system and truly focus on patient welfare if doctor B has no idea what tests doctor A conducted, or what the results were?
The predominant proprietary HIT vendors know this, yet have engaged in prolonged foot-dragging on interoperability and even basic data interfacing. Yes healthcare IT is their business, but interoperability is not in their nature.
As we’ve seen before, the problem is with the business model.
The proprietary business model makes the vendor the single source of HIT for hospital clients. Complexity and dependence are baked into both solutions and client relationships, creating a “vendor lock” scenario in which changing systems seems almost inconceivable.
In the proprietary world, interfacing with third-party products is a revenue generation strategy and technical challenge; the latter, though unnecessary, justifies the former. When we go looking for the reasons that healthcare is a laggard compared with other industries, this single-source model—the obstacle to much-needed competition and innovation—is a primary culprit.
To be fair, provider organizations, with little if any incentive to exchange patient data before the advent of Meaningful Use, haven’t shown much collaborative spirit either. In the fee-for-service model, why would a healthcare organization let patients slip from their grasp? Health reform is finally mandating needed change, but when will proprietary vendors actually enable the interoperability hospitals and practices soon have to demonstrate?
Recent rumblings from Washington, DC, suggest the feds are losing patience.
Our recent Health Affairs article linking increased test ordering to electronic access to results has elicited heated responses, including a blog post by Farzad Mostashari, National Coordinator for Health IT. Some of the assertions in his blog post are mistaken. Some take us to task for claims we never made, or for studying only some of the myriad issues relevant to medical computing. And many reflect wishful thinking regarding health IT; an acceptance of deeply flawed evidence of its benefit, and skepticism about solid data that leads to unwelcome conclusions.
Dr. Mostashari’s critique of our paper, will, we hope, open a fruitful dialogue. We trust that in the interest of fairness he will direct readers to our response on his agency’s site.
Our study analyzed government survey data on a nationally representative sample of 28,741 patient visits to 1187 office-based physicians. We found that electronic access to computerized imaging results (either the report or the actual image) was associated with a 40% -70% increase in imaging tests, including sharp increases in expensive tests like MRIs and CT scans; the findings for blood tests were similar. Although the survey did not collect data on payments for the tests, it’s hard to imagine how a 40% to 70% increase in testing could fail to increase imaging costs.
Dr. Mostashari’s statement that “reducing test orders is not the way that health IT is meant to reduce costs” is surprising, and contradicts statements by his predecessor as National Coordinator that electronic access to a previous CT scan helped him to avoid ordering a duplicate and “saved a whole bunch of money.” A Rand study, widely cited by health IT advocates including President Obama, estimated that health IT would save $6.6 billion annually on outpatient imaging and lab testing. Another frequently quoted estimate of HIT-based savings projected annual cost reductions of $8.3 billion on imaging and $8.1 billion on lab testing.
We focused on electronic access to results because the common understanding of how health IT might decrease test ordering is that it would facilitate retrieval of previous results, avoiding duplicate tests. Indeed, it’s clear from the extensive press coverage that our study was seen as contravening this “conventional wisdom”.