2019 is finally here and the digital health ecosystem is ready to find new opportunities and tackle existing challenges in healthcare and beyond. Public policy – with the support of our community members and stakeholders worldwide – will continue to drive significant transformation across all sectors. We spoke with Tom Leary, vice president of Government Relations at HIMSS, to find out what the digital health public policy buzz will be in 2019, at HIMSS19 and how it will impact the U.S. and beyond. Here’s what we learned.
2018 was a productive year from a HIMSS public policy perspective and many milestones were achieved – especially regarding telehealth in the U.S. But there’s still work to be done, Leary noted – particularly around demonstrating return on investment or cost avoidance to the healthcare system, which will inform policy change particularly for Medicare around telehealth.
As for new or priority areas in HIMSS’s 2019 public policy goals, Leary anticipates public health infrastructure will continue to be a hot topic. “There’s a lot at stake, particularly with parts of the U.S. economy and healthcare systems where delivery is dependent on the public health IT infrastructure, which needs an upgrade. Most of public health did not receive the strong influx in health IT improvements through meaningful use programs that some other parts of the healthcare system did.
“So you’re dealing with technology that’s older that could truly benefit from technology and infrastructure improvements to ensure care access to 21st century solutions.”
Another recurring hot topic that Leary expects to be a major focus for public policy is interoperability. In the U.S., we’re all anticipating proposed regulations from the Office of the National Coordinator and HHS Inspector General on information blocking, as well as a proposed rule improving patient access to their data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Internationally, policy advancements on interoperability and information exchange of health data are happening in governments, most notably a recent public comment to launch the development of an interoperability roadmap in the EU.
A third area we anticipate public policy dialogue and action is healthcare cybersecurity – at the state, provincial, federal and international levels. “Policymakers are concerned about what to put in place to ensure we increase the likelihood that the healthcare community – including payers, providers, caregivers, staff members and facilities are all cyber aware, and healthcare data is protected against cyber bad actors. It’s becoming a concern more and more for policymakers across the globe.
“HIMSS recently met with a senior leader from a country in Asia. His number one issue to devote resources was interoperability, and number two was cybersecurity. It confirms for the HIMSS team that most of the issues facing consumers, providers, and market suppliers are really borderless; we’re all trying to get to a point where secure information can be shared with the right provider, at the right time, in the right place, securely.”
Leary also cited the continuation of focus on consumer engagement in healthcare throughout 2019. “It’s an issue bubbling up the last several years, but there seems to be more interest in Canada and increasingly across the world; consumer engagement to drive improvements in access, care and consumer choices so they can make healthy ones that will impact their longevity and day-to-day wellness.”
General Data Protection Law Regulations, or GDPR, is another topic that will generate wide interest at HIMSS19 and throughout the year, Leary said. The European Union’s recent implementation had wide-reaching impact on healthcare policy spanning far outside of Europe. Leary anticipates much conversation around this at HIMSS19, noting that it has prompted policymakers in other countries to look at their own data and privacy rules in a new way. This has started conversations among U.S. policymakers at HHS about how regulatory changes to HIPAA could be in place without changing the law, he said.
HIMSS will also continue dialogue about the Immunization Integration Program (IIP) during HIMSS19 and throughout the coming year. “At HIMSS19, we’ll have a very interactive conversation around the IIP program. We’re looking at overcoming the barriers around info sharing between electronic health record solutions and immunization registries. Our hope is this will not only decrease provider burnout, but support the interoperable flow of vaccination information back to providers, so we can improve identification of patients needing vaccinations and expand access to those resources across health systems.”
Ultimately, the conversation at HIMSS19 will focus on the transition to value-based care, Leary said. “A lot of folks in the U.S. and across the world are trying to figure out how to leverage data to improve access to quality care,” Leary added, noting that single payer systems don’t want to pay for care that lacks quality. “This transition is also emphasizing the question – for both organizations and government policymakers– where do we need to spend more time making sure that those who might be providing adequate, but not high quality care, get the resources and training they need to obtain higher quality care delivery?” We are all still learning, he emphasized. “Through the open dialogue, policymakers can learn from each other and avoid some of the challenges earlier adopters have faced.”
Every year, more and more policy and law officials from the across the world continue to attend the HIMSS Global Conference & Exhibition. What keeps them returning, Leary said, are the vast opportunities the conference provides to connect, share important policy changes, and exchange innovative ideas.
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