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Advancing Interoperability, Information Sharing, and Data Access: Improving Health and Healthcare for Americans

Report from the Healthcare Leadership Council and the Bipartisan Policy Center

Information about an individual’s health and healthcare is needed to support coordinated, safe, high-quality, cost-effective, patient-centered care. Much of this information resides in the multiple settings where patients receive care and services, including physician offices, clinics, hospitals and health systems, laboratories, pharmacies, radiology centers, health plans, and even with patients themselves. Interoperability of health information technology (IT) systems helps bring this information to the point of care to support clinical decision-making. It also supports individuals as they navigate their health and healthcare.

The vast majority of clinicians and hospitals have adopted electronic health records (EHRs). The next step is to accelerate interoperability of EHRs and other health IT systems to bring information to clinicians and patients seamlessly.

Progress is being made. The percentage of U.S. non-federal acute care hospitals that electronically find patient health information, and send, receive, and integrate patient summary of care records from sources outside their health systems, has nearly doubled in the last four years, from 23 percent in 2014 to 41 percent in 2017. Ninety percent of hospitals and 48 percent of office-based physicians are electronically sending or receiving (or exchanging) patient health information with health care providers outside their organizations. Individuals are increasingly able to access their health information electronically. But more work is needed.

The federal government has taken many actions to accelerate interoperability, including implementation of the bipartisan 21st Century Cures Act, which was signed into law in December 2016. On February, 11, 2019, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) proposed new rules to support the access, exchange, and use of electronic health information. The private sector has also taken several actions.

The chief executives of organizations represented by the Healthcare Leadership Council (HLC) and the Bipartisan Policy Center came together in 2018 to identify ways to further advance the interoperability of systems and electronic information sharing to support better health outcomes and higher-quality, safer, more cost-effective, and patient-centered care for individuals and populations in the United States. HLC and BPC drew upon the experiences and expertise of more than 100 individuals representing every sector of health care, including clinicians, hospitals and health systems, long-term and post-acute care (LTPAC) providers, health plans, life sciences organizations, EHR and other technology developers, data analytics companies, and patients.

Supporting better health outcomes for individuals and populations requires an interoperable healthcare system in which the patient is at the center of care and the right data are available to the right person at the right time. Access to high-quality, accurate, and actionable data is seamless and integrated within clinical workflows, providing value and convenience, as well as reducing healthcare costs. There is trust in the system; privacy is protected, and information is kept secure.

Action to improve interoperability should initially focus on two priority areas: (1) bringing information to the point of care to support care delivery and (2) meeting the information needs of individuals to support their health and healthcare.

Advancing interoperability will require leadership and action in four key areas, outlined below.

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