News Feature | March 21, 2014
Obama administration says harnessing technology, spurring health vital for making affordable care a reality
While health insurance continues to get all the high-noise attention in the ongoing implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the White House reached out to business leaders this week with a parallel message: Harnessing technology and spurring health IT innovation are just as vital as insurance for making affordable care a reality.
During a March 11 briefing hosted by Business Forward and the White House Business Council, in which White House and Department of Health and Human Services officials updated a select group of 20 business leaders on the ACA’s implementation, Obama Administration representatives discussed the importance of using health IT to make healthcare more accessible, improve outcomes, and reduce costs. Participants also covered issues about the new healthcare economy, public-private partnerships, and opportunities for reform to make the system more efficient and responsive.
For their part, the business leaders gave a thumbs-up to the top-level focus on technology’s role in healthcare reform — even as some acknowledged that collaboration had not been embraced by all tech companies. Participants urged more consistency in data-sharing, balancing patient privacy, and streamlining EMR systems.
“This was a great opportunity to get important updates, share our real-world ideas, and brainstorm solutions to better the U.S. healthcare system,” said Cortney Nicolato, VP of Marketing and Strategy at Rockville, MD-based Get Real Health. “As a company that is improving outcomes and efficiencies through patient engagement technology, it is always wonderful to be able to sit down with top government leaders in our field.”
Nicolato added that she hopes all HIT companies take to heart the message about data-sharing and collaboration. “This was an off-the-record briefing, but I’ll simply say that private-sector partnering is vital in order to push HIT innovations through the development pipeline as fast as the administration — and healthcare providers and consumers — would like.”
The briefing did unearth a big success story about hospital readmissions. The ACA mandates readmission reductions, which had been running at 20 to 30 percent. Readmissions recently fell to 18 percent according to the Office of Information Products and Data Analytics, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. The number brings a smile to Nicolato’s face. ““I am proud that our patient engagement platform is contributing to this reduction,” she said.
Of course, patient engagement is only one factor in preventing readmissions — but admittedly a big one. Patients are increasingly using technology to better manage their health, with chronic disease- and medication-related alerts, as well as their healthcare, with easier patient-provider communication and secure information sharing. By accessing and using these tools, more healthcare consumers are able to stay on top of their conditions so they can avoid last-minute ER visits.
The briefing’s focus on technology was drowned out in the media by buzz over the just-released health insurance Marketplace enrollment numbers. More than 4.2 million Americans had selected a Marketplace plan by March 1, according to HHS. Spin doctors from across the political spectrum made their own brand of hay from the stat, keeping public awareness of the ACA narrowly centered on insurance coverage.
Yet, briefing participants seemed to recognize the significance of their own work on the prospects for the ACA’s long-term success. “We have all seen how the Affordable Care Act depends on websites and mobile applications to let regulators, insurers, providers and consumers work together,” said Gabriela Camacho (McAdoo), RN, BSN, clinical healthcare advisor with CareMaestro & Sauce Labs, both located in San Francisco, Calif. “The ACA cannot be implemented if these websites and applications do not work flawlessly across all computers, browsers and mobile devices used by the participants in the ACA.”
Michael Davolt, co-founder & COO of Caremerge, located in Chicago, Ill., described this as “a great time for entrepreneurs to be a catalyst in the transformation of healthcare technology.” Davolt’s statement seemed to capture the spirit of the White House briefing, as administration officials asked the business leaders to identify what pain points they face as they work to innovate, what obstacles and challenges they have to overcome, and how the government can help them chart new HIT territory.
Many in the room, public and private sector alike, had plumbed the depths of such questions during the annual Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference, held February 23–27 in Florida, where awareness of the importance of patient engagement felt greater than ever.
Whether that sentiment — and this White House briefing — propel all industry players toward expedited collaboration and data-sharing remains to be seen. “This briefing reiterated to us that we must continue to set what we believe is a good example so we can all be successful in this mission,” said Nicolato.