Traction is expected on a national patient identifier, and telehealth policies have bipartisan support; health IT will play a key role in a COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
As a contentious election season ends and a new administration is poised to take office, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) is focused on the role of healthcare IT in an era where healthcare plays an crucial role in the nation's ability to move forward.
"The last several decades there has been strong bipartisan support for health IT and how to use IT to improve care processes, control costs, and improve quality," said Jeff Coughlin, senior director of government relations at HIMSS during a post-election press briefing with members of the media. During the session, the organization's government relationships team explored a broad array of topics they expect to be addressed by the new administration and by Congress in the coming months. Following are highlights from the discussion:
1. Progress Expected on a National Patient Identifier
The HIMSS team reported promising news regarding development of a national patient identifier, which would promote the ability to match patient records between providers and facilities. Currently, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is prohibited from using federal funds for the adoption of such an initiative.
Earlier this year, with bipartisan support, the Foster‒Kelly Amendment to the Appropriations Act was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives, and is now sitting with the Senate. Tom Leary, vice president of government relations at HIMSS indicated that there seems to be support in the Senate to lift the ban, which would make HHS "an active and equal partner with the health care community in the development of a national patient identification strategy."
David Gray, senior manager of government relations at HIMSS said, "Removing the ban should kickstart a large‒scale public‒private partnership effort to figure out the best path forward on reducing patient matching errors. In addition to legislative action, The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) is scheduled to produce a report to Congress on the topic in December.
2. HIT Will Play a Key Role in the COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout
Healthcare IT will play a crucial role in the launch of a COVID-19 vaccination, the team said. While having a national patient identifier would help with the rollout, even if Congress approves associated legislation, it is unlikely that identifiers will be established in time to impact the COVID-19 immunization process.
"With the recent news that came out by Pfizer about the possible success of their vaccine, our national patient matching strategy and removing the ban really takes on even more significance now," said Gray. "We've seen COVID-19 exacerbate patient matching—or mismatching—issues. As we are working to build out a large-scale immunization program, the success of that is really going to depend on accurately matching patients with their information and monitoring the long-term health outcomes."
Regardless, "Technology is absolutely at the center of making sure that we have the right information about the right individual to the right provider," said Leary. Technology will help track whether individuals have been vaccinated, their status if multiple doses are necessary, and where stockpiles exist.
3. Spotlight Remains on Telehealth
"Telehealth and connected health will continue to be a big priority," said Gray. Waivers that Congress granted the Department of Health and Human Services are tied to the public health emergency declaration, and are set to expire soon, he explained. While another extension may be issued, Gray said, "Democrats, Republicans, nonpartisans, and Americans really would like to see some of these policies addressed on a permanent basis." Several bills in both houses of Congress are pending.
Other Key Issues
HIMSS will continue to work other organizations to push funding for data modernization efforts through Congress, particularly related to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to HIMSS, unified national databases are essential to multiple healthcare initiatives, and the organization has been working to support investment and development of backend systems at the CDC.
Other areas of focus include:
- Interoperability continues to be a high priority issue.
- HIT could play a role in equitable distribution personal protective equipment and testing.
- As more care moves to home and virtual care increases, the focus on broadband access will gain further traction.
“Removing the ban should kickstart a large‒scale public‒private partnership effort to figure out the best path forward on reducing patient matching errors.”
David Gray, senior manager of government relations, HIMSS
Mandy Roth is the innovations editor at HealthLeaders.
Currently stuck in the Senate, HIMSS expects movement forward on approving legislation related to a national patient identifier.
Health IT is essential to effective rollout of a COVID-19 vaccination.
Telehealth, data modernization, and interoperability also are critical to the nation's ability to move healthcare forward.