Governors Look to Ease Nationwide Health IT Interoperability

National Governors Association Releases New Resource

December 15, 2016 10:45 am News Staff

Family physicians and health care professionals across the country have waited far too long for interoperable electronic health records (EHRs) and the seamless flow of clinical information that interoperability will bring.

Admittedly, the country has not yet achieved that milestone, but new resources developed(www.nga.org) by the National Governors Association's (NGA's) Center for Best Practices Health Division are a solid step in the right direction.

On Dec. 8, the NGA announced the release(www.nga.org) of Getting the Right Information to the Right Health Care Providers at the Right Time: A Road Map for States to Improve Health Information Flow Between Providers. An accompanying website(ngainteroperabilityroadmap.cwsit.org) presents the same information in easy-to-digest chunks.

The sharing of patients' clinical information is important because it gives physicians an opportunity to make the best decisions about patient care, cut back on repetitive tests and medical errors, and lower costs.

Story Highlights
  • The National Governors Association (NGA) recently released new resources to help states improve the flow of information between physicians and other health care professionals.
  • Interoperability currently is lacking in the U.S. health care system but is important because it gives physicians an opportunity to make the best decisions about patient care, cut back on repetitive tests and medical errors, and lower costs.
  • The road map resource was made possible through a cooperative funding agreement between the NGA and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.

The NGA road map resource was made possible through a cooperative funding agreement with the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) and is intended to help governors and other top state leaders develop policies to support the sharing of information and protect patient privacy; the overall goal is nationwide interoperability.

ONC Blog Post

Authors of a Dec. 9 post(www.healthit.gov) on the ONC's Health IT Buzz blog discussed the release of the road map.

"The NGA road map helps states evaluate their own legal and regulatory privacy landscapes, identifies best practices states can learn from each other, and enables states to take decisive steps to improve the availability of electronic health information while simultaneously protecting patient privacy," they wrote.

The NGA developed the road map after interviewing more than 90 state health policy officials, health information organizations, vendors, provider organizations and payers. They also convened officials and stakeholders from federal, state and industry sectors to share ideas.

Road Map Highlights

The road map is divided into four sections and begins by supplying background information that describes the current state of health information sharing between U.S. health care professionals.

Section two highlights steps policymakers can take to evaluate their state's current environment and changes to consider that would increase the flow of data. Suggestions include assembling a core team, conducting legal and market analyses, identifying specific barriers within the state, selecting strategies to overcome challenges, and finally, implementing and then evaluating the success of those strategies.

The third section highlights strategies states have implemented to overcome barriers and encourage the sharing of clinical information between physicians and/or other health care providers. Here are some examples of state actions:

  • Kansas passed legislation to align the state's laws with the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, thereby superseding the state's previously existing health privacy laws.
  • Michigan created a standardized consent form for sharing behavioral health information that lets patients designate which providers can share that information and what information cannot be shared. Patients can also withdraw consent.
  • Connecticut passed a law that prohibits hospitals, health systems and EHR vendors from health information blocking and establishes that such action is an unfair trade practice.

The final section of the road map includes supplemental information on how clinical information is currently exchanged between health care providers and outlines the challenges and opportunities states are now encountering as they work toward establishing interoperable exchange of clinical information.

AAFP Stance on Interoperability

The AAFP's policy on EHRs, as adopted by the 2016 Congress of Delegates, strongly encourages physicians to leverage health IT and EHRs to help provide safe and high-quality care to their patients.

The Academy has also been on the frontlines of the interoperability debate that has been highlighted most recently by implementation of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA).

For instance, in a June 3 letter to the ONC,(7 page PDF) the AAFP responded to a request for information regarding how to measure the progress of EHR interoperability related to MACRA.

The AAFP's key message was that family physicians need interoperability -- not more administrative tasks -- and it asked the ONC to take that fact into consideration when developing meaningful EHR measures.

"Administrative burden must be avoided to allow clinicians to focus their time on coordinating care rather than measuring the level of progress toward interoperability in care coordination," said (then) AAFP Board Chair Robert Wergin, M.D., of Milford, Neb.

And back in October 2015, Wergin criticized the ONC's final EHR Interoperability Road Map(www.healthit.gov) for not moving fast enough to solve problems and overcome existing barriers to interoperability.

In an Oct. 5 letter(3 page PDF) to the ONC, Wergin spoke for all family physicians when he said, "We need more than a roadmap; we need action."

Related AAFP News Coverage
AAFP Expertise on EHRs Guides ONC
Key Message: FPs Need Interoperability, Not Administrative Burden

(6/8/2016)

AAFP Blasts ONC's Final EHR Interoperability Road Map
(10/12/2015)