Health primarily happens outside the doctor’s office—playing out in the arenas where we live, learn, work and play. In fact, a minority of our overall health is the result of the health care we receive. If we’re to have an accurate picture of health, we need more than what is currently captured in the electronic health record.
That’s why the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) asked the distinguished JASON group to bring its considerable analytical power to bear on this problem: how to create a health information system that focuses on the health of individuals, not just the care they receive. JASON is an independent group of scientists and academics that has been advising the Federal government on matters of science and technology for over 50 years.
Why is it important to pursue this ambitious goal? There has been an explosion of data that could help with all kinds of decisions about health. Right now, though, we do not have the capability to capture and share that data with those who make decisions that impact health—including individuals, health care providers and communities.
The new report, called Data for Individual Health, builds upon the 2013 JASON report, A Robust Health Data Infrastructure. It lays out recommendations for an infrastructure that could not only achieve interoperability among electronic health records (EHRs), but could also integrate data from all walks of life—including data from personal health devices, patient collaborative networks, social media, environmental and demographic data and genomic and other “omics” data.
The essence of controlling Ebola is surveillance. To accept surveillance, the population must trust the system responsible for surveillance. That simple fact is as true in Liberia as it is in the US. The problem is that health care surveillance has been privatized and interoperability is at the mercy of commerce.
Today I listened to the JASON Task Force meeting. The two hours were dedicated to a review of their report to be presented next week at a joint HIT Committee Meeting.
The draft report is well worth reading. Today’s discussion was almost exclusively on Recommendations 1 and 6. I can paraphrase the main theme of the discussion as “Interoperability moves at the speed of commerce and the commercial interests are not in any particular hurry – what can we do about it?”
Health information technology in the US is all about commerce. In a market that is wasting $1 Trillion per year in unwarranted and overpriced services, interoperability and transparency are a risk. Public health does not pay the bills for EHR vendors or their hospital customers.
This week a host of organizations responded to a Senate Finance Committee request for feedback on how to better use healthcare data.
The inquiry is timely, given the widespread frustration providers have with health information technology (HIT), and electronic health records (EHR) systems in particular. This frustration stems from many HIT/EHR systems are locked in proprietary systems. This hinders technology’s ability to connect and exchange information freely between disparate systems, devices and sensors along the care continuum, thus undermining the overall goal of using HIT to improve efficiencies and reduce costs.
An example illustrates the point. Because HIT systems don’t work together, most hospitals use nurses to manually double check input from disparate “smart” devices. For instance, an infusion pump reports the level of pain medication being administered to a patient, as does the EHR. But these numbers sometimes don’t match, and must be double checked by at least two nurses to confirm the right dosing. Not only is this a step back for efficiency, but it’s also another manual process that has the potential to create errors and patient safety issues.
There are also economic consequences of data fragmentation. According to the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC), U.S. providers are spending $8 billion a year due to the lack of interoperability.
To address this problem and reduce the unnecessary fragmentation of healthcare data, it’s time to require the use of open and secure applications programming interfaces (APIs).
In April, a group of America’s leading scientists, named JASON, published a report that found the current lack of interoperability among HIT data sources is a major impediment to the exchange of health information. They recommended that EHR vendors be required to develop and implement APIs that support health data architecture. The recommendation was also endorsed by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) in May. Requiring open APIs as a foundational standard for healthcare data would reverse the current legacy of locked systems and enable the real-time exchange of information in EHR systems to reduce costs and improve patient safety.