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HHS Announces Health IT Stakeholder Pledge at HIMSS


HHS secretary Sylvia Matthews Burwell announces major industrywide pledge to make EHRs work better for patients and providers.

HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell kicked off the annual Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Conference by announcing a major industrywide pledge that has influential stakeholders promising to make EHRs work better for patients and providers.

Burwell said that companies that provide 90 percent of EHR systems, including the Verona, Wisc.-based Epic, Kansas City-based Cerner, and many more, as well as major health systems across the country, such as Partners Healthcare in Boston and Oakland-based Kaiser Permanente, and large associations, such as HIMSS and the American Medical Association, have all agreed to implement three core components to the way they do business. The components include agreeing to help consumers easily and securely access electronic health information; agreeing to not engage in information blocking practices in provider-to-provider data sharing; and implementing interoperability standards.

“These commitments are a major step forward in our efforts to support a healthcare system that is better, smarter, and results in healthier people,” Burwell said

In the opening keynote address, Burwell spoke in front of a packed house at the Venetian Sands Expo Convention Center's 7,000-seat Palazzo Ballroom in Las Vegas, outlining this new commitment. "Sometimes the most important thing to do is to step back and let others take the lead," she said preceding the announcement.

The secretary did, however, outline several HHS-specific strategies that aim to move health data interoperability forward, including the agency's interoperability roadmap and the implementation of a health IT certification program.

While Burwell says a lot of progress has been making EHRs more widespread, with nearly every hospital and three-quarters of physicians having adopted a system, she says there is more work to be done. Specifically, in regards to interoperability. She railed against information blocking, saying it's happening "knowingly and unreasonably" all too often. Burwell also said healthcare consumers aren't getting the access they need and technology is speaking different languages.

After the announcement, the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) came out in favor of the initiative. “AHIMA believes these three principles will make a significant and meaningful difference in making sure health information is available where and when it’s needed,” AHIMA CEO Lynne Thomas Gordon said in a statement.

Burwell's keynote speech included stories of the power of seamless health data exchange working to benefit patients. She talked about the work being done by Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician at Hurley Medical Center in Flint, who mined EHR data and mapping geographic variations to discover that the percentage of kids in Flint who were being poisoned by lead had doubled and tripled over the past few years. This data helped Hanna-Atisha in her crusade to get the Flint water crisis to the forefront.

"[Hanna-Atisha] told me that had this been done through paper, the work would have taken twice as long to complete," Burwell said.


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