Cerner is proud to be a member of the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME). Cerner’s CHIME membership enables educational opportunities and collaboration with more than 1,400 CIOs and health care IT executives from leading health systems around the world.
President Joe Biden was sworn into office on Jan. 20 as the 46th president of the United States. In addition, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff were confirmed to the U.S. Senate, giving the Democratic Party a majority for the first time since 2015. These legislative power shifts will likely have significant implications on health care policy and digital transformation in 2021 and beyond.
At the 2020 Cerner Health Conference (CHC) this past October, I participated in a panel about the impact of the 2020 election on health care policy alongside Cerner President Donald Trigg, Paul Keckley, managing editor of the Keckley Report, and Rick Pollack, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association.
During the session, Donald described digital technology as “a strategic lever for driving positive change in health care,” which frames the issue perfectly. As we consider what’s next in health care under a new administration, these are some other key takeaways from our discussion around digital health.
Digital health: Common ground for Democrats and Republicans
Historically, digital health has been a political neutral zone, a place where congressional leaders from both sides of the aisle see opportunities to provide their constituents with health care that’s safer, better and more affordable. Ever since CHIME has had a presence in Washington, our members and our D.C. team have worked with lawmakers from both parties on health care technology-related policies that impact patients, providers and our industry. We expect that relationship will continue with the 117th Congress.
Technology is playing a bigger and bigger role in the delivery of health care and potential improvements in quality, safety and affordability. With the widening deficit, Congress will likely look for ways to rein in health care costs with value-based care and other alternatives to fee-for-service payment models. Patients are also demanding more price transparency as they shift to a consumer mindset. There is a digital health component in each of these strategies. As Donald pointed out in his opening remarks during the CHC panel, we have an opportunity to advocate for change that benefits patients and providers.
Patient identification and information blocking
For more than a decade, our CHIME members have called for the removal of language that bans funding for a national patient identification system. The COVID-19 pandemic has made this patient safety issue even more important; with vaccines now approved through an emergency use authorization, we’ll need a system to accurately match patients to their records to ensure the right dosage is given to the right person at the right time. In 2020, the House voted for a second year in a row in favor of an amendment to overturn the ban, but the Senate didn’t follow suit. Our CHIME members, policy team and partners continue to reach out to senators and their staff to educate them about this issue.
We’re also working with Congress and federal agencies to delay the deadline for compliance with information blocking rules under the 21st Century Cures Act. We emphasized that our members and their health care organizations have rightly focused resources on keeping patients and employees safe during the pandemic. The overall information blocking applicability deadline was moved from Nov. 2, 2020, to April 5, 2021. This is a welcome reprieve. We urge the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) – the owner of this set of regulations – to continue to monitor the impact the pandemic is having on provider readiness and adjust accordingly.
COVID-19 and telehealth
The many years of work that Cerner and other electronic health record companies have done to digitize patient records set the foundation for health care organizations to ramp up telehealth and telework platforms so quickly at the beginning of the pandemic. Medicare’s telehealth waivers facilitated adoption, and we’re advocating that some of these waivers be made permanent. (The Biden administration has indicated that those flexibilities will be extended through 2021 under Public Health Emergency legislation.) The disruptors to traditional care delivery were already in place before the pandemic and will advance consumer-driven care even more as we move forward.
On the flip side, there’s also potential to widen the digital divide between people with technology and connectivity and those who lack these resources. We commend Congress for funding programs to expand broadband access to rural Americans, and we’ll continue to advocate on the behalf of rural communities; but there also remains a significant number of at-risk communities in urban areas that don’t have access to broadband. These constituents have not had the advantage of telehealth during the pandemic because they lack the tools and technologies. We have an opportunity to narrow this gap and position all segments of society to benefit from the digital revolution that has accelerated in the COVID-19 era.
Leveraging new players in the health care ecosystem
Health care is ripe for disruption, and senior digital health care executives have an opportunity to lead in this transformation. Associations like CHIME and the American Hospital Association are seeing major players, such as Amazon, Google, Apple and Walmart, enter the health care market ─ something that a few years ago seemed unfathomable. Our digital health care ecosystem has grown with many more possibilities for partnerships and new ways of delivering more convenient care to patients on their terms.
It’s true that digital technology is a strategic lever for driving positive change in health care. Public policy is also a powerful lever. At the dawn of a new political administration, we have an opportunity to shape that future of digital health care by sharing our knowledge and insights with leaders in Washington.
CHIME works alongside its members to provide educational and technical policy leadership to Congress, the White House and federal agencies. Learn more here or contact the CHIME policy team at firstname.lastname@example.org.