• Health IT Roundtable, White Paper Reflect AAFP Leadership

    Permanent Telehealth Flexibilities, Improved Interoperability Central to Findings

    June 10, 2021, 4:40 p.m. Scott Wilson — The COVID-19 public health emergency isn’t over, but the Academy is already working to help evaluate the pandemic’s effects on physician practices — including information technology. 

    Concept illustration of physician using tablet overlaid with medical symbols

    The AAFP participated in a March forum on health care IT during and beyond the pandemic, and provided input for a recently issued white paper detailing the event’s findings.

    That document, “Health IT Leadership Roundtable: The Power of Technology to Transform Patient Care,” examines the ways in which last year’s crisis accelerated technology changes already underway, including telehealth and virtual care. It also documents several related needs — some of them urgent, given a COVID-19 vaccine-development process that outpaced established delivery infrastructure. In particular, the paper’s authors spotlight the need for improved patient data collection “as part of a comprehensive effort to advance health equity” while ensuring health data privacy.

    Among the paper’s key takeaways for family physicians: the need for appropriate telehealth payment, and the importance of improving interoperability between EHRs and public health databases to ensure correct immunization tracking and timely data collection.

    “This is the second Health IT Leadership Roundtable that the Academy has been involved with,” AAFP Vice President and Chief Medical Informatics Officer Steven Waldren, M.D., M.S., told AAFP News. “It was an opportunity to drive our advocacy goals around health IT and gather support from other stakeholder groups to amplify our message.”

    Story Highlights

    Waldren said these goals were most visible in two of the paper’s recommendations.

    The first, labeled “Maintain Regulatory Flexibility for Virtual Care,” echoes advice the Academy most recently offered last month in Senate testimony calling for permanent adoption of certain telehealth policies introduced in response to the PHE.

    “Policymakers should continue to provide ongoing flexibility through the remainder of the public health emergency and assess whether certain policies should be made permanent,” the paper notes under that heading.

    The second of the paper’s recommendations most in line with AAFP policy urges the Biden administration to “structure future funding opportunities to ensure a cross-sector approach to strengthening public health and health care systems rather than a continued siloed approach to data sharing.”

    Illustrating the fallout that comes from this siloing, the report notes that “in many places, there is not one centralized place where an individual can go or access to sign up for a vaccine, which has led to a complex, and often inequitable, distribution process.

    “Even primary care physicians, plans and other entities do not necessarily have access to timely information to help guide individuals nor to understand which individuals have received a vaccine and which have not. While the current approach may allow for more rapid and geographically disperse administration of the vaccine, it also creates a difficult process for individuals to navigate, limiting trust in the system.”

    Elsewhere, the paper advocates for

    • federally funded and prioritized public health infrastructure modernization;
    • an enhanced “seamless public health data exchange;”
    • increased funding to improve and expand electronic case reporting (which automatically generates an electronic submission of reportable diseases and conditions from an EHR to public health agencies);
    • incentives to back implementation and use of standardized public health data classes and elements to facilitate more streamlined exchange of public health data;
    • required collection of race and ethnicity data, with publicly reported health data “stratified by race and ethnicity, at a minimum, for all individual-level data collection and reporting,” and federal guidance for state and local officials to ensure standardized practices;
    • policy encouraging the “development and enhancement of current cross-sector data sharing efforts,” with HHS moving to “further the standardization and interoperability of social-needs data;” and
    • HHS rulemaking mandating that third-party applications (including personal health applications) “provide individuals with a clear, concise notification about their privacy practices.”

    The roundtable’s participants included 11 other medical, health care and insurance organizations: the American College of Physicians, the American Health Information Management Association, the American Heart Association, the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Informatics Association, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives, the Consumer Technology Association, the Federation of American Hospitals, the National Partnership for Women & Families and the Premier Healthcare Alliance.