HIMSS18: CMS's Verma warns information blocking will no longer be tolerated

CMS Administrator Seema Verma, MPH, announced at HIMSS18 in Las Vegas new agency initiatives aimed at promoting interoperability and giving patients easier access to health records, drawing applause for talk about reforming regulations while the audience of health IT professionals sat silent when she warned of a crackdown on information blocking.

The center of the new push is the My HealthE Data initiative, which Verma said would give patients more control over their healthcare data and how its used. Such patient empowerment is needed, Verma argued, to push the transition to value-based care and encourage consumerism in healthcare. It also means information blocking “will not be tolerated.”

“Let me be crystal clear: The days of finding creative ways to trap patients in your system must end,” Verma said. “It’s not acceptable to limit patient records or prevent them or their doctor from seeing their complete history outside a particular healthcare system. Too many patients suffer from this lack of control.”

Verma said she experienced this firsthand when her husband went into cardiac arrest at an airport far from their home in Indiana. She was away from her family at the time, answering questions about her husband’s medical history over the phone and trying to call his Indiana physicians. After her husband underwent a multitude of tests and spent a week in the hospital, Verma asked the University of Pennsylvania for his medical records—a request she thought should be simple but instead made the hospital “uncomfortable.”

She was given five pages of paper records and a CD-ROM, which didn’t contain many of the test results, like MRI results, which the hospital had performed and therefore wouldn’t be shared with her husband’s local providers. Verma encouraged “innovators” at HIMSS to find ways make this whole process easier, from putting health records on smartphones to allow quicker access to pertinent data in an emergency or connecting data collected by wearables to providers to help prevent such emergencies in the first place.

“This administration will pull every lever to create a healthcare information ecosystem that allows and encourages the healthcare market to tailor products and services to compete for patients,” Verma said. “This will help increase quality, decrease costs, and promote healthier lives. And the healthier our citizens are, the lower our costs will be.”

Beyond the My HealthE Data initiative, Verma also outlined other CMS priorities under the Trump administration to promote interoperability and greater patient access to their data:

  • Launching Medicare Blue Button 2.0 to test applications to give Medicare beneficiaries their health data in forms which make more sense to the average patient, rather than Blue Button’s current form of compiling claims data in a PDF.
  • Making private insurers offer members the same electronic access to their claim data as Blue Button 2.0 provides to Medicare beneficiaries.
  • Overhauling Meaningful Use programs and elements of the Quality Payment Program to “increase the programs’ focus on interoperability and to reduce the time and cost required to comply with them.”

The latter two announcements drew big applause from HIMSS attendees. The warnings about information blocking, however, and declarations from Verma that patient data belongs to patients and not providers drew silence from the audience of health IT professionals. When asked by HealthExec what role traditional EHR vendors would play in the new initiative, CMS officials would only say they’ll need to comply with any new data sharing policies.

To any vendor or healthcare provider that would resist those changes, Verma advised they rethink that stance.

“For those of you that still subscribe to the outdated idea that you can deny patients access to their health records, I encourage you, in the strongest way, to accept change and accept that those practices will come to an end,” Verma said.