Andy Slavitt and Dr. Karen DeSalvo Panel Discussion at HIMSS

Andrew-Slavitt-cmsBy Andy Slavitt, Acting Administrator, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services
Twitter: @CMSgov

I love working with Karen De Salvo. She can talk in half sentences and I can finish them. We’ve naturally been working together for months on some of the initiatives we’re talking about here, and always check in to compare facts, see if we’re seeing the same thing. We went into these speeches in perfect harmony on what needs to be done.

True story. We exchange drafts and she sends me a note “Andy, I think your speech comes across as very negative. Why don’t you reread with that lens?” I erased the email I’d been writing to her– she’s always too positive for me anyway – and I think I sent her an emoticon of a happy face instead. Now one interpretation is she works with the technology community who by all accounts and from looking around the floor are generally happy. I hear more from docs trying to use technology and that may affect my moods a little bit.

We are now seven years in to the concerted launch of a truly national health information technology platform. Always a good time to see how it’s going. I’ve been to HIMSS with a few different hats on and have been talking fairly publicly about Meaningful Use and about moving technology to a place where it becomes a more flexible tool to support physicians so they can improve patient care. I’m certainly not bashful about what we need to do better and I’m not going to be bashful, even in the face of some very good reasons for optimism, to point to where we all need to take our game up.

We’ve all made a great start but we’re still at a stage where technology often hurts, instead of helping, physicians provide better patient care. And we are committed to taking a page out of consumer technology playbook and taking a user-centered approach to designing policy. I’m asking you to redouble your efforts to do the same.

The Consumer

Understanding what we want from technology means first understanding how we provide and receive care today in America where the consumer is more diverse, more mobile and more demanding than ever before. The consumers CMS serves are a good representation of all of our care needs– 140 million Americans– most on fixed or low incomes– in every type of care situation–

  • The Medicare patient leaving the hospital with five prescriptions to fill and 2 appointments to book;
  • The marketplace customer who will have coverage for the first time and finally be able to have his wife’s chronic fatigue looked at;
  • The daughter who has made the difficult decision to move her father in a nursing home and wants to know staffing ratios and quality ratings;
  • The family with a child with disabilities on Medicaid that requires 24 hour care and is watching every dollar and interviewing every home care worker.

Because of the way people get care today– on the go, on their own terms, often not anchored in the system – their information needs are ever more vital and yet so basic. Am I recognized when I show up? Are my needs, preferences, and history available?

And today’s technology at its best is ideally suited to meet these needs – the cloud, social media, one-click purchases, information at our fingertips, everything wired, convenient devices, expert systems, intelligent agents. We know what we need to do and the technology is available.


Let me talk about the user-centered policy design approaches we’ve been using to implement the new bipartisan MACRA legislation – legislation intended to bring value-based care to the everyday physician practice. We have created a new playbook at CMS by making our most concerted effort ever at listening to front-line physician and patient input upfront.

After first collecting feedback from across the health care sector, we launched our work with a four day session with physicians and technology companies and sought more comment through a public Request for Information (RFI). But the bulk of our work has been directly with front line physicians. We have completed 8 focus groups with front line physicians in 4 separate markets and have many more coming. And I’ve been on the road meeting with a number of physicians in their offices to see how they interact with technology directly. Our questions have been simple? What needs to work better with so the technology in your office can support you in delivering better patient care?

Let me show you a few of the more representative things we are hearing.

“It does put too much of a burden on us and it does take away our time from caring for patients. It seems like most of what I’m doing during the daytime is entering data into the electronic record.” (Primary Care Provider, Atlanta)

“…nobody’s EMR talks to someone else’s EMR. And that’s the big mess that people put out there. Like if you’re going to find out someone’s information, it’s going to be snail mail or somebody’s going to fax it or you have to walk over and get it.” (Primary Care Provider, Atlanta)

“I think that the one thing that this really could’ve added to patient care is the one thing that hasn’t happened, and that’s the systems don’t talk to each other. It’s actually the opposite. If one of the EMRs I used, I can’t even access it at the hospital because of the firewall. I can’t even get into the EMR at the hospital to look at patient records.” (Health Care Specialist, Chicago)

“To order aspirin takes eight clicks on the computer. To order full-strength aspirin, 16. . .That’s not patient care. It’s clicks.” (Primary Care Provider, Atlanta)

“The problem I have is I can see less patients in a day based on all of the stuff I have to do with a computer and that’s really killing me. ” (Primary Care Provider, Los Angeles)

“There’s too much information, finding information in an EMR is difficult. … It’s just too much. A certain level is good, but they’re going beyond that. These aren’t the greatest on things all that, we just click and click and click. It’s very hard to, it’s a very busy screen on the EMR now. There’s a lot of other information that you don’t need now, you just have to click, click, click, and it’s too much.” (Primary Care Provider, Atlanta)

I have hundreds of these if you’re interested.

Three themes have emerged that have shaped the agenda you are hearing from Secretary Burwell, Karen and me.

  1. First is that physicians are hampered and frustrated by the lack of interoperability. It’s more practical than that. I don’t think anybody but us policy people actually use the word interoperability– it’s usually– I can’t track my patient’s referral, I don’t know what happens when they’re in the hospital.
  2. Second, regulations in their current form slow them down, create documentation burden and often distract them from patient care.
  3. And third, they find their EHR technology hard to use and cumbersome. It slows them down, doesn’t speed their path to answers.

So, let me summarize our agenda within these three themes before Karen and I take some questions.

The first area we are addressing is the documentation overhead associated with the Meaningful Use program. Since we are a few months away from having details available with the proposed MACRA rule that we will be open for public comment, let me share our approach.

Job One has been to try to close the gulf between our public policy work and what’s happening in the reality of patient care.

Second, what we are we hearing from all of our sessions with physicians? Stop measuring clicks, focus instead on allowing technology to become a tool and focus on the results technology can create. Give us more flexibility to suit our practice needs and ultimately more control.

Third, where possible, we favor “pull” vs. “push” incentives. What I mean by this is to let outcomes rather than activities drive the agenda. We can take advantage of how the landscape has changed over the last five years with the proliferation of programs that depend on care coordination and population health.

Roughly 25 million Medicare patients are now in Medicare Advantage or an ACO; April 1st, close to half of the hip and knee replacements in the country will come together in an impatient-outpatient full bundle. Medicare, Medicaid and commercial health plans are fast approaching a tipping point when more than half of all payments will be tied to improved care and cost outcomes.

Interoperability is the second area. It is an essential ingredient not only for better patient care, but as the President said last week, to the precision medicine that will unlock an entirely new future of better health.

As you know, Secretary Burwell announced that companies representing 90 percent of EHRs are committing to three vital steps to real interoperability that Karen just talked about. I thank the many who have made this commitment. It has the potential to set us on a new course, but we all need to be more committed than ever to making sure that the substance of this pledge translates to reality.

Why is a pledge important? There has to be a private sector commitment to the greater good. Regulations, like those requiring open APIs can help, but frankly there are just too many ways to step in the way of true interoperability that no regulation can anticipate – legal clauses, commercial impediments, documentation access, IP, “security” concerns, hidden documentation. The companies who live up to their commitments will be recognized. And I strongly encourage you to recognize those that don’t.

I’m also excited that on the interoperability front, today we are announcing funding to connect many of the remaining parts of the system that are not part of the EHR incentive program but serve our neediest Medicaid patients every day – long-term care, behavioral health and substance abuse providers.

But we can’t forget that interoperability is a means to an end. Ultimately it needs to open up a path to give physicians and patients what they want from their technology, so called bottom-up interoperability. We need to focus on the use cases that matter and have agreed that we will help facilitate building around two that have physicians have identified: closing the referral loop and patient engagement.

That leads directly to the third component to getting out of the EHR doldrums – to give the physician better tools that help them with patient care. It’s not only Meaningful Use that concerns physicians, they want better technology. With interoperability and open APIs, it’s time to finally create the improved workflows and the apps that physicians are looking for.

Shifting from MU-oriented design to developing certified technology that is user-centered is a big and necessary opportunity. Flexible EHR incentives should give tech companies new products to develop.

The open APIs requirements in the ONC CERT rule will allow new innovators, in addition to traditional EHR vendors, to break the current desktop lock that early EHR decisions created and create analytic applications, plug-ins, and other tools by securely moving data in and out of the EHR. Competition and innovation are a missing ingredient. So what am I most excited about? As Karen mentioned, ONC is launching an App Discovery Site, or what I call the FHIR Cloud, as an EHR-neutral place for new apps that can securely move data in and out of an EHR. We now have an opportunity to make it tangible.

What comes next for us? If all do our work right– and it will take all of us, physicians will at some point be talking about patient support tools, not EHRs or Meaningful Use. I don’t have illusions that anyone is ever going to enjoy being measured and evaluated– those systems are always imperfect, human biology too heterogeneous, government too far away from the judgments needed inpatient care. And frankly I never have and hope never to meet a physician that cares more about an incentive payment than doing what they think is right for their patient. So our policies need to communicate what’s important– improved patient care, better spending, and healthier people– without invading the space of how to get there. A challenging goal, but one made easier by talking about it publicly and listening to input.

It takes all of us to turn this around. We will do our part and for us, it is not a one-time fix or a single regulation that will change things – it is an ongoing process and commitment to closing the gap between on the ground care delivery and policies that promote the tools for better care. Most important for us is to commit to change how we work to listen and improve. Connecting to what happens in daily patient care is vital to our policy-making as we seek a better, smarter healthier system and a better patient outcome.

We are committed to making real progress that makes a real difference. So let’s get to work.

This article was originally published on The CMS Blog and is republished here with permission.