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CMS Initiative Aims to Improve Patient Access to Health Data

CMS is launching MyHealthEData, Blue Button 2.0, and other projects aimed at supporting better patient access to health data.

patient access to health data

Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- Patient access to health data may become easier for Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries as CMS launches several new initiatives aimed at putting patients at the center of their own care through seamless health data access.

The initiatives include the MyHealthEData program, Medicare Blue Button 2.0, restructuring of the Quality Payment Program and meaningful use, and newly required systems updates.

The MyHealthEData program will allow patients to own all of their digital health data and send that health data to any provider or family caregiver they want.

“MyHealthEData will help to break down the barriers that prevent patients from having electronic access and true control of their own health records from the device or application of their choice,” CMS wrote in a press release. “Patients will be able to choose the provider that best meets their needs and then give that provider secure access to their data, leading to greater competition and reducing costs.”

This level of ownership will ideally spark more patient activation and drive patient engagement in care, CMS said.

READ MORE: Patient Access to Health Data, Patient Portal Use Increases

HHS, ONC, the National Institutes of Health, and the Department of Veterans Affairs will also provide support to CMS to supplement the MyHealthEData program.

CMS also announced the Medicare Blue Button 2.0 initiative in which patients can access their own healthcare information, previous medications, treatments, and procedures. Patients can share their own health data with any provider they choose, ideally reducing duplicative medical testing and procedures, CMS administrator Seema Verma announced at HIMSS18 this week.

Patients can access this data using innovative and agile health technology, Verma explained. Currently, over 100 healthcare vendors and organizations have signed onto Blue Button 2.0. CMS intends for these initiatives to drive competition in health technology, urging developers to innovate tools that can support this kind of patient-centric mission.

Patient data access will make the care encounter more seamless for patients and reduce unnecessary healthcare spending. Blue Button 2.0 will also allow patients to access their own claims data to better understand their healthcare utilization.

CMS is building off their efforts for patient data access by calling on private healthcare payers to adopt similar patient engagement strategies, Verma said in her address at HIMSS.

READ MORE: Patient Access to Health Data, Portal Access Surges to 92%

“CMS serves more than 130 million beneficiaries through our programs, which means we are uniquely positioned to transform how important healthcare data is shared between patients and their doctors,” Verma noted. “Today, we are calling on private health plans to join us in sharing their data with patients because enabling patients to control their Medicare data so that they can quickly obtain and share it is critical to creating more patient empowerment.”

CMS also announced plans to overhaul certain regulatory programs that have traditionally facilitated patient access to health data. Meaningful use and the Quality Payment Program (QPP) have both created requirements for providers to offer their patients access to their own health data and have contributed to rising patient portal adoption.

Meaningful use updates will reduce administrative burden on providers so they have more time for patient-provider interaction. The program will now center more on interoperability, a key need if the administration is going to advocate for patients accessing health data on their own personal devices. Device agnostic data will be essential for patients to share their information with any provider they want.

“CMS will be announcing a complete overhaul of the Meaningful Use program for hospitals, and the Advancing Care Information performance category of the Quality Payment Program,” Verma stated during her speech. “Ensuring the security of healthcare data will be an absolute requirement in order to avoid negative payment adjustments or to receive an incentive payment. Our new direction will not only reduce time and costs, but will also be laser focused on increased interoperability and giving patients access to their data across all of our programs.”

The agency also announced upcoming regulations to better surveil for information blocking, a practice during which providers withhold patient health data sharing with an external provider. Information blocking can keep providers from making informed decisions regarding patient treatment protocol and in many cases can serve as a patient safety issue.

READ MORE: How Patient Portals Improve Patient Engagement

“Let me be crystal clear, the days of finding creative ways to trap patients in your system must end,” Verma asserted. “It’s not acceptable to limit patient records or to prevent them and their doctor from seeing their complete history outside of a particular healthcare system. Too many patients suffer from this lack of control, and it is the priority of this administration to ensure that every patient and their doctor can receive free and timely access to their electronic data.”

To support all of these initiatives, CMS also announced the following health IT updates:

  • CMS is requiring providers to update their systems to ensure data sharing.
  • CMS intends to require that a patient’s data follow them after they are discharged from the hospital.
  • CMS is working to streamline documentation and billing requirements for providers to allow doctors to spend more time with their patients.
  • CMS is working to reduce the incidence of unnecessary and duplicative testing which occurs as a result of providers not sharing data.

These initiatives require the cooperation and buy-in of many industry stakeholders. Creating seamless patient data access and interoperability means that all healthcare organizations and health IT developers must be dedicated to putting data in patients’ hands, Verma stated.

“We cannot do this alone, but together we can accomplish wonderful things,” Verma concluded. “Ten years from now let’s look back on this conference and the launch of MyHealthEData as the beginning of a new era in patient care and empowerment, and celebrate the advances that we can’t even imagine today.”

While these announcements do mark needed buy-in at the national level to enable patient health data access, it is important to note that patient portals have helped to transform this conversation. The tools, which offer patients a view of their EHR data, have sparked a widespread movement toward better patient health data access.

Since 2012, the number of providers offering patients EHR access via the portal has increased exponentially. According to a recently-released report from the American Hospital Association (AHA), patient access to EHR data used to linger at around 27 percent in hospital settings. That number has now reached 93 percent.

Eighty-three percent of patients have the ability to send that data to a family member, caregiver, or provider.

However, this move from CMS is a symbolic mark noting the agency’s commitment to value-based care and a health system in which patients can control access to their own health data, according to a statement from HIMSS.

“Administrator Verma’s announcement of Bluebutton 2.0 and call to accelerate innovation to release data is a strong indication that CMS is moving in a direction that envisions the next state of our healthcare system, one with safe and efficient care delivery,” HIMSS wrote.

“The importance of secure electronic exchange of health data to value-based care cannot be underestimated,” the organization added. “HIMSS continues its pledge to work with CMS to ensure that incentives and CMS policies facilitate greater levels interoperability to achieve the overarching goal. We need to leverage all available policy levers to incentivize more health system participants to share data.”

The CMS presentation received high praise from other key industry stakeholders, as well. AHA affirmed the move to reduce administrative burden in meaningful use and QPP, stating that provider flexibility was essential for enhancing patient care.

“While the meaningful use program was successful in encouraging adoption of EHRs, it is now time to allow hospitals and clinicians to determine how best to leverage technology to support the secure exchange of health information to improve care and engage patients,” said AHA vice president of policy Chantal Worzala. “The AHA looks forward to working with CMS to develop more flexible and less burdensome meaningful use requirements and MIPS/ACI options that are aligned across programs.”

Worzala also stated that AHA supports a 90-day reporting period for meaningful use, and that it has concerns about immature standards set in the 2015 Edition Certified EHRs.

Senator Orrin Hatch, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, released a statement supporting these “common sense” calls to action.

“I am pleased by Administrator Verma’s announcement today of new CMS initiatives that will put Americans at the center of their health care,” Hatch said. “Specifically, CMS’ commitment to streamlining the meaningful use program and focus on improving information exchange – something I’ve called for in recent years – is encouraging. It’s common sense that patients should be able to quickly and securely access their health records, especially in this digital age, and I look forward to working with this administration to reduce even more barriers to improve our nation’s healthcare system.”

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