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ONC & CMS Proposed Rules – Part 4: Information Blocking

By DAVE LEVIN MD

The Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) have proposed final rules on interoperability, data blocking and other activities as part of implementing the 21st Century Cures Act. In this series, we will explore ideas behind the rules, why they are necessary and the expected impact. Given that these are complex and controversial topics open to interpretation, we invite readers to respond with their own ideas, corrections and opinions.

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When it comes to sharing health data, the intent of the 21st Century Cures Act is clear: patients and clinicians should have access to data without special effort or excessive cost. To make this a reality, the act addresses three major areas: technical architecture, data sets and behaviors. Part two of our series looked at how APIs address technical issues while part three covered the new data requirements. In this article, we delve into information blocking. A companion podcast interview with ONC expert Michael Lipinski provides an even deeper dive into this complex topic.

Information Blocking Comes in Many Forms

The Public Health Services Act (PHSA) broadly defines information blocking as a practice that is “likely to interfere with, prevent, or materially discourage access, exchange, or use of electronic health information.” The overarching assumption is information will be shared though the Act does authorize the Secretary to identify reasonable and necessary exceptions.

The proposed rules focus on “technical requirements as well as the actions and practices of health IT developers in implementing the certified API.” Information blocking can come in a variety of forms. It can be direct and obvious (“No you can’t have this data ever!”) or indirect and subtle (“Sure, you can have the data, but it will cost you $$$ and we won’t be able to get to your request for at least 12 months.”). The proposed rules are designed to address both. This passage illustrates some of the concerns:

“Health IT developers are in a unique position to block the export and portability of data for use in competing systems or applications, or to charge rents for access to the basic technical information needed to facilitate the conversion or migration of data for these purposes.”

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ONC & CMS Proposed Rules – Part 3: Data Requirements

By DAVE LEVIN, MD

The Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) have proposed final rules on interoperability, data blocking and other activities as part of implementing the 21st Century Cures Act. In this series, we will explore the ideas behind the rules, why they are necessary and the expected impact. Given that these are complex and controversial topics open to interpretation, we invite readers to respond with their own ideas, corrections and opinions. In part three of this series, we look at how the new USCDI draft helps foster innovation.  

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The U.S. Core Data for Interoperability (USCDI) draft is a step forward toward expanding the 21st Century Cures Act. The Cures Act was helpful in moving the needle for interoperability and defining data blocking. The latest draft of the USCDI is meant to further specify what data should be shared freely.

In this article, we’ll look at the data added to the Common Clinical Data Set (CCDS) used for ONC certification. We’ll walk through the proposed plan to add more data over time. And we’ll explore why this is a step in the right direction toward increased data sharing.

New Shared Data

The bulk of the datasets in the USCDI comes from the Common Clinical Data Set (CCDS), which was last updated in 2015. The new USCDI draft adds two types of data:

  • Clinical notes: both structured and unstructured. EHRs store these notes differently, but both are important and helpful in data analysis.
  • Provenance:  an audit trail of the data, showing where it came from. It is metadata, or information about the data, that shows who created it and when.

The Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) have created standards around APIs used to access health care data. APIs developed under the FHIR standard aligns with the USCDI to meet the proposed certification rules. The USCDI draft recommends using a FHIR compliant API to access the data.

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ONC & CMS Proposed Rules | Part 2: Interoperability

By DAVE LEVIN MD 

The Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) have proposed final rules on interoperability, data blocking and other activities as part of implementing the 21st Century Cures Act. In this series, we will explore the ideas behind the rules, why they are necessary and the expected impact. Given that these are complex and controversial topics open to interpretation, we invite readers to respond with their own ideas, corrections and opinions. You can find Part 1 of the series here

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In 2016, Congress enacted the 21st Century Cures Act with specific goals to “advance interoperability and support the access, exchange and use of electronic health information.” The purpose was to spur innovation and competition in health IT while ensuring patients and providers have ready access to the information and applications they need.

The free flow of data and the ability for applications to connect and exchange it “without special effort” are central to and supported by a combination of rules proposed by ONC and CMS. These rules address both technical requirements and expected behaviors. In this article, we look at specific technical and behavioral requirements for interoperability. Future articles will examine data blocking and other behavioral issues.

Compatible “Plugs and Sockets”

The proposed rules explicitly mandate the adoption and use of application programming interface (API) technology (or a successor) for a simple reason: APIs have achieved powerful, scalable and efficient interoperability across much of the digital economy. Put simply, APIs provide compatible “plugs and sockets” that make it easy for different applications to connect, exchange data and collaborate. They are an essential foundation for building the next generation of health IT applications. (Note: readers who want to go deeper into APIs can do so at the API Learning Center).

APIs are versatile and flexible. This makes them powerful but can also lead to wide variations in how they work. Therefore, ONC is proposing that certified health IT applications use a specific API based on the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) specification. FHIR is a consensus standard developed and maintained by the standards development organization (SDO) Health Level–7 (HL7). Mandating the use of the FHIR standard API helps to ensure a foundational compatibility and basic interoperability. This gives API technology suppliers (like EHR vendors) a clear set of standards to follow in order to fulfill the API requirement. It also ensures “consumers” of that API (like hospitals and health IT developers), have consistency when integrating applications.

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Interoperability and Data Blocking | Part 1: Fostering Innovation

By DAVE LEVIN MD 

The Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) have published proposed final rules on interoperability and data blocking as part of implementing the 21st Century Cures act. In this series we will explore the ideas behind the rules, why they are necessary and the expected impact. Given that these are complex, controversial topics, and open to interpretation, we invite readers to respond with their own ideas, corrections, and opinions.

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Health IT 1.0, the basic digitalization of health care, succeeded in getting health care to stop using pens and start using keyboards. Now, Health IT 2.0 is emerging and will build on this foundation by providing better, more diverse applications. Health care is following the example set by the rest of the modern digital economy and starting to leverage existing monolithic applications like electronic health records (EHRs) to create platforms that support a robust application ecosystem. Think “App Store” for healthcare and you can see where we are headed.

This is why interoperability and data blocking are two of the biggest issues in health IT today. Interoperability – the ability of applications to connect to the health IT ecosystem, exchange data and collaborate – is a key driver of the pace and breadth of innovation. Free flowing, rich clinical data sets are essential to building powerful, user-friendly applications.  Making it easy to install or switch applications reduces the cost of deployment and fosters healthy competition. Conversely, when data exchange is restricted (data blocking) or integration is difficult, innovation is stifled.

Given the importance of health IT in enabling the larger transformation of our health system, the stakes could hardly be higher. Congress recognized this when it passed the 21st Century Cures Act in 2016. Title IV of the act contains specific provisions designed to “advance interoperability and support the access, exchange, and use of electronic health information; and address occurrences of information blocking”. In February 2019, ONC and CMS simultaneously published proposed rules to implement these provisions.

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Innovation Amidst the Crisis: Health IT and the Opioid Abuse Epidemic | Part 4 – Resource Allocation and Access

By COLIN KONSCHAK, FACHE and DAVE LEVIN, MD 

Dave Levin

Colin Konschak

The opioid crisis in the United States is having a devastating impact on individuals, their families, and the health care industry. This multi-part series will focus on the role technology can play in addressing this crisis. Part one of the series proposed a strategic framework for evaluating and pursuing technical solutions.

A Framework for Innovation

In part one of our series, we declared the opioid crisis an “All Hands-On Deck” moment and made the case that health IT (HIT) has a lot to offer. Given the many different possibilities, having a method for organizing and prioritizing potential IT innovations is an important starting point. We have proposed a framework that groups opportunities based on an abstract view of five types of functionality. In this article, with an assist from Dr. Marv Seppala, Chief Medical Officer at the Hazelden-Betty Ford Foundation and Dr. Krista Dobbie, Palliative Care physician at the Cleveland Clinic, we will explore allocation of resources and access to care and the role that technology can play.

Resource Allocation and Access for Opioid Management

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Innovation Amidst the Crisis: Health IT and the Opioid Abuse Epidemic | Part 1 – A Strategic Framework

Colin Konschak

Dave Levin

By COLIN KONSCHAK, FACHE and DAVE LEVIN, MD

The opioid crisis in the United States is having a devastating impact on individuals, their families, and the health care industry. This multi-part series will focus on the role technology can play in addressing this crisis. In this article, we propose a strategic framework for evaluating and pursuing technical solutions. Future articles will explore specific areas and solutions within this framework.

A Full-Blown Crisis

One of the authors recently had the opportunity to participate in a multi-stakeholder workshop in Cleveland, OH dedicated to finding new, collaborative approaches to addressing the nation’s opioid abuse epidemic. While Ohio might be considered ground zero for this epidemic, the evidence is clear that this is a national crisis and it is getting worse. The numbers are frightening, especially the 2016 estimate that 2.1 million people misused opioids for the first time.

Given the statistics, it is likely that many of you have been personally touched by the epidemic.

In our experience, successful improvement efforts in health care almost always address the role of people, process and technology. Strategic innovations aimed at the opioid abuse crisis should account for all three of these in a holistic manner. Innovation should be pursued as a series of practical experiments that address current gaps, result in near-term improvement, provide insights for future tests of change, and lead to a set of sustainable and scalable solutions that will be essential to ensuring long-term success in addressing this enormous problem.

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