By Seema Verma, Administrator, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services
Americans enjoy the benefits of the best healthcare providers and innovators in the world. Yet while the volume of care consumed by American patients has not increased dramatically comparative to similar economies, the cost of care in the United States has accelerated at an alarming pace. Healthcare costs continue to grow faster than the U.S. GDP, making it more difficult with each passing year for CMS to ensure healthcare to not only its beneficiaries of today, but generations of beneficiaries in the future.
We believe at CMS that a major cause for the cost inefficiency of healthcare is attributable to a failure in the past to make the system about the patient and for the patient. It is the system that has become the centerpiece of policy debates, and it is the system that has become more about sustaining itself than serving patients. If the patient truly is what our healthcare system seeks to serve, then the patient must be the focal point of all policies and private industry decision-making.
CMS is committed to leveraging innovation to truly empower patients with their own data, decisions, and care. Evidence of this commitment can be found in a government-wide initiative launched by CMS and the White House Office of Innovation in March called MyHealthEData— designed to achieve true patient control and interoperability of their health records, and to enable patients to share their data with technology innovators and researchers to accelerate public health. See our new video for a simple explanation of MyHealthEData.
At CMS we are putting patients first, and we are moving to break down silos of patient information that is being captured by the system, and depriving the patient the access to the best quality, and most affordable care. Sustaining our exceptional healthcare depends now more than ever on driving down costs, and a major part of the CMS strategy to drive down costs depends on smart and innovative use of information technology (IT).
Through MyHealthEData, CMS envisions a future in which all patients have access to their own health data and use it to make the right decisions for themselves and to get the best value. We see health IT systems that work seamlessly with each other, and a government that supports secure data sharing and emerging technologies so that healthcare in America is better and less expensive.
To achieve these goals, CMS fully acknowledges that we cannot operate in a “way-we-have-always-done-it” manner and hope for different results. That is why CMS created the new role of CMS Chief Health Informatics Officer (CHIO) and has begun the process of filling this new role with a leading healthcare IT talent. The CHIO will drive health IT and data sharing to enhance healthcare delivery, improve health outcomes, drive down costs, and empower patients. Through this new function, CMS will effectively engage stakeholders from all parts of the healthcare market, including our Federal partners and industry leaders.
As CMS Administrator, I am deeply committed to programs, policies, and systems that put patients first. It’s 2018—most doctors are using electronic health records (EHRs) and most patients have access to the Internet and a smartphone, providing many ways to view healthcare data securely. Patients should expect health IT that enhances their care coordination instead of disrupting it. Their information should automatically follow them to all of their healthcare providers, so that everyone stays informed and can provide the best treatment. Patients also should know how much a health service costs so they can decide whether they want it, and “shop around” for where to get it.
Another reason behind our decision to create a CHIO role is that today at CMS, we are focused on data, not only to inform our strategy, but also to promote patient choice and drive down cost. We are evaluating the data we have and how best to apply it to our mission. We also are thinking about an Application Programming Interface (API) strategy across the entire agency that will allow us to securely provide data so that software developers, researchers, and others can design useful products (such as apps) powered by it, just as so many companies do to enhance their customer experience.
If we can solve these health IT challenges, not only will patients benefit, but so too will providers and payers. We are closer than ever to realizing these goals, but we are not there yet.
The truth is, as the largest healthcare payer in the country, CMS should have had a CHIO function long ago. Despite today’s amazing technology and decades of promises, we are not where we should be. The CHIO role will enhance my leadership team, working across CMS, with federal partners including the U.S. Digital Service, and alongside private industry and researchers to lead innovation and help inform CMS’s health IT strategy. The challenge is great, but so is the reward—building the next generation of interoperable health systems for millions of Americans and affecting national and global health IT for good.
We now have the momentum and focus to make this happen.
Although we will refine specific responsibilities, we anticipate the CHIO role will help drive forward the many health IT initiatives we have begun this year, including the Medicare Blue Button 2.0 program—a universal digital format for personal health information—and our overhaul of the CMS EHR Incentive Programs to focus on interoperability.
I look forward to meeting qualified CHIO candidates who wish to step up to this challenge and join the team that will lead CMS health IT over the “finish line” so that we can drive down costs and save lives. The time is now to realize the true potential of health IT for America’s patients.
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