In 2018, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT and the White House Office of American Innovation, publicly announced our commitment to ensuring that patients would have access to their healthcare data wherever and whenever they need it, and we commenced on a journey to break down the barriers that keep critical patient health information locked in digital silos.
For decades, the path to healthcare interoperability has been a relay spanning multiple administrations, one in which each administration has passed the baton to the next, moving the healthcare industry closer to the goal, but always falling short of seamless interoperability of health data.
At the finish line lies a more coordinated, seamless system of care in which patients have electronic access to their health information and providers are offering competitive quality and patient care, providing more evidence-based care with less duplication of testing and errors. We have taken the race further by revising old policies to better achieve their intended goals, finalizing new policies to engage all stakeholders across the healthcare industry and laying a foundation for the future of interoperability.
Over the past three years, and as part of the support under the 21st Century Cures Act, our accomplishments have been numerous. Underpinning many of our accomplishments is the use of application programming interfaces that allow electronic data to flow securely and seamlessly between information systems, and, specifically, the use of the API standard for interoperability known as HL7 Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources, or FHIR. This standard enables more efficient collaboration and a modern approach for sharing of information between the different electronic health systems essential for interoperability.
At CMS, we have promoted the use of APIs, both inside CMS and in the broader healthcare industry, to enable the secure exchange of data. Some of our externally facing APIs include:
We have also refined our programs to better support interoperability and data access. In 2018, CMS overhauled the Medicare and Medicaid Promoting Interoperability Programs (formerly known as meaningful use) to prioritize interoperability and patient access.
Through these programs, hospitals and clinicians may receive reduced Medicare payments if they do not give patients electronic access to their data. In this way, we took a struggling program that was focused on EHR adoption and transformed it into a driver for data exchange among providers to give patients access to their healthcare data.
In addition, we have used our regulatory levers to engage our stakeholders in data sharing. In September 2019, CMS released the Discharge Planning Final Rule, which mandates that hospitals ensure each patient’s right to access their medical records in an electronic format, as well as requiring the seamless exchange of patient information between healthcare settings, and ensuring that a patient’s healthcare information follows them after discharge from a hospital or post-acute care provider. It requires the discharge planning process to focus on a patient’s goals and treatment preferences.
In May 2020, CMS finalized our first rule dedicated to interoperability with the CMS Interoperability and Patient Access final rule. Based on Medicare’s Blue Button initiative that provided claims data to patients, the final rule focused on driving interoperability and patient access to health information by liberating claims and clinical data for 85 million patients.
Through our policies, CMS promotes an HHS-wide move to FHIR APIs to support interoperability across the health ecosystem. This rule also establishes a Condition of Participation, requiring hospitals receiving reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid to provide patient event notifications at hospital admission, discharge and transfer.
These notifications inform patients’ doctors and providers that they have been in the hospital and provide relevant data pertaining to the visit, which facilitates more coordinated and seamless care. Of important note is that this notification requirement is only applicable to said hospitals with electronic health records systems or other electronic administrative systems that meet certain technical specifications.
At the same time, ONC finalized their 21st Century Cures Act final rule, which will support patient access to their electronic medical records directly from their providers through FHIR-standards-based APIs. Together, these rules addressed both technical and healthcare industry factors that cause barriers to the secure exchange of health information and limit the ability of patients to access essential health information.
By aligning FHIR-based requirements for payers and healthcare providers through the CMS Interoperability and Patient Access final rule, and health IT developers, providers and health information networks through the ONC 21st Century Cures Act final rule, we are driving an interoperable health IT infrastructure across systems and ensuring providers and patients have access to health data when and where it is needed.
Most recently, we released the CMS Interoperability and Prior Authorization proposed rule. This proposed rule would build on our efforts around FHIR APIs and would ensure that providers and payers have necessary patient data. It would require Medicaid and CHIP fee-for-service and managed care payers, as well as insurers offering individual market qualified health plans on the Federal Exchanges, to facilitate exchange of certain specified data across the healthcare ecosystem to patients, providers and to other payers.