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Why We’re Hopeful about Health IT

Eric D. Hargan
Health Information Technology Advisory Committee
January 18, 2018
Washington, D.C.

The high priority placed on interoperability and the promise of health IT runs straight to the top of this administration. I can personally tell you that the White House is deeply committed to this effort. But just as important, the demand for advancing health IT is also coming from the ground up.

As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Dr. [Don] Rucker, for that introduction, and for the hard work you have been doing at ONC [Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT].

Good morning, everyone, and thank you for joining us here today for this important occasion. In particular, all of you who have agreed to serve on HITAC [Health Information Technology Advisory Committee]—we are grateful for the commitment you’ve made, and look forward to working with you to make your recommendations and contributions a reality.

The establishment of HITAC by the 21st Century Cures Act is a major step forward for American health IT policy. By replacing the Health IT Policy Committee and the Health IT Standards Committee with a single committee, we now have a single body that can make expert recommendations to advance our work.

The composition of this committee, too, is telling and important: Your immense collective experience in health care and technology will be an important asset in helping us to set a strategic direction for our country’s health IT systems.

This body will play a key role in achieving ONC’s goals, and the goals that we have set out for health IT under this administration: achieving interoperability within health IT and improving the usability of health IT, for providers, patients and all other stakeholders.

HITAC in particular is charged with making recommendations to the National Coordinator relating to the implementation of national and local health IT infrastructure, focused on the following target areas:

  1. Achieving a health IT infrastructure that allows for the electronic access, exchange and use of health information—for example, allowing the easy exchange of clinical information between providers, including among our federal partners like the VA and the Department of Defense.
  2. Promoting and protecting the privacy and security of health information in health IT, because we know that the cyberthreats around healthcare data are ever increasing.
  3. Facilitating individuals’ secure access to their protected health information, because we know Americans want control of their own information and to be able to easily access that information. Nearly everyone has a smartphone with which they ought to be able to access it securely.
  4. Considering any other target area that the HITAC identifies as appropriate.

I want to emphasize that we are all aware that these are lofty goals. Significant efforts have been made in these areas before, and yet we still have a long way to go.

Like many of you, in fact, I can personally attest to how difficult these challenges can be.

In my time as acting deputy secretary during the Bush Administration, Secretary Mike Leavitt made health IT a top priority.

And yet, as many of you know, some of our efforts came up short, while other important ideas never got off the ground.

But we have many reasons to be more optimistic today: For one, we have made huge progress in terms of the use of electronic health records. This has exponentially increased the potential returns to making these records more interoperable and more usable.

The 21st Century Cures Act also gives us new tools and authorities for advancing interoperability, including provisions that should increase market competition, allowing new entrants to design software applications and tools that will help solve complex challenges.

Meanwhile, technology has advanced by leaps and bounds: in terms of our ability to harness big data through artificial intelligence and machine learning, in terms of our ability to store and share data through the cloud, and most important, in terms of ordinary Americans’ ability to access and use their own health data.

One of the main goals we have today is to make health data more accessible through people’s smartphones. This is something that wasn’t even a possible avenue for most Americans in, say, 2008, when just 11 percent of Americans actually owned smartphones.

As of 2016, that number of was up to 81 percent of all Americans.

This leads to both the possibility of advancement, but also the expectation of performance. That 81 percent of Americans who use a smartphone at some point, they are going to wonder why they can’t use their phone to access their own health records.

So it’s not just us at HHS, or stakeholders in the health IT community, who are now eager to see progress on this front.

The high priority placed on interoperability and the promise of health IT runs straight to the top of this administration. I can personally tell you that the White House is deeply committed to this effort.

But just as important, the demand for advancing health IT is also coming from the ground up.

You are working toward a goal that will serve all Americans, by advancing the quality, affordability and accessibility of our health system.

Your work will serve to directly empower individuals—anyone who has dealt with a complicated medical issue knows the feeling of powerlessness that can beset you during a diagnosis or at a difficult decision point.

And nearly all of us have been frustrated at some point by the opacity of our health system’s pricing and quality measures, which produce not only frustration, but also cost inflation.

We cannot solve these problems solely through better technology and better technology standards.

But we can certainly ensure that technology and standards are working to solve the problem, rather than being part of the problem itself.

So thank you for your dedication to this work, and I wish you the very best. We believe the rewards will be worth it.

Thank you again, and I’ll now hand things back over to Lauren Richie.

Content created by Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs (ASPA)
Content last reviewed on January 18, 2018