All Your Health Records in One Place? This New Policy Could Make That a Reality

Doctors use a digital tablet.
Ariel Skelley—Getty Images

Over the past several years, technological advancements like electronic health records (EHRs), cloud computing, and connected smart devices have made the long-held vision of improving patients’ access to their medical records a genuine possibility. Patients should have access to their own health information in a standardized electronic format that reflects their complete medical history, aggregated from all of their health care providers. A new rule issued by President Donald Trump’s administration will help turn this vision into reality.

Last year, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) took an exciting first step by advancing Blue Button 2.0 API, a new program that allows Medicare beneficiaries to share their health care claims data with applications and services that help them manage their health. CMS also offered financial incentives for providers to give patients better access to their health information, while also requiring high levels of privacy and security to protect patient information.

Now, the agency is taking this effort a significant step further, issuing a proposed rule that would require Medicare Advantage plans, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and health plans sold on the federal exchanges to share medical claims and other health information electronically with their enrollees by 2020.

If finalized in its current form, this rule will ensure that an additional 85 million patients have access to their health information in a standardized digital format, on top of the almost 40 million Medicare beneficiaries who already have access to their data through Blue Button 2.0. With these reforms, Americans will be able to safely access their information using a smartphone or other device. They will also be able to securely share their health information with their doctor, provider, or researchers working to cure diseases.

Currently, thanks to Blue Button 2.0, more than 1,500 entities—ranging from the largest health care providers and academic institutions to entrepreneurs creating new startups—are already developing applications for use with Medicare claims data. The Trump administration’s new policy will expand the use of applications to patients beyond Medicare enrollees, allowing even more Americans to get the information they need to make the best decisions for themselves and their families.

Additionally, CMS’s proposal ensures that hospitals will send electronic notifications to other providers caring for a patient. Too often, patients have to bear the burden of coordinating this process; this new notification system frees them of that responsibility by alerting the providers when their patients are admitted, discharged, or transferred from the hospital. This will effectively improve overall care by linking acute and long-term care management.

CMS’s rule is complemented by a proposed rule being issued by the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology that would ensure providers are equipped to share electronic health information in real time at no cost. HHS is also asking the public for input on how price information should be made available to patients in advance of care. This critical goal—to end the surprises and unfair pricing practices harming patients—was articulated by the president in his State of the Union address.

Struggling with an emergency or chronic health condition is stressful enough; patients should not have to fight just to get their own data and share it with their care team. These new proposals will foster a health care marketplace where patients are in charge and can migrate across the health care system without restraint. Data will follow the patient, and can be securely shared with a clinician at the push of a button. A clinician will be able to follow a patient’s medical history, aggregating information from each health visit. Researchers will have access to new data that allows them to unlock insights that lead to innovative cures and treatments.

For the benefits of this effort to reach all Americans, CMS is calling on private insurers to follow our lead by releasing data to their patients in the same standardized electronic format. (Absent congressional legislation, HHS cannot compel private companies to make standardized EHRs available.) Providers and innovators will be able to use this common data to build new applications that help patients understand and act on their own health information.

With the right combination of public policy reforms, technological improvements, and entrepreneurial activity, we can empower patients as they navigate the health care system and improve medical outcomes for all Americans. We have waited long enough to access our full electronic health records; working together, we can realize this goal and unleash the next generation of health care innovation.

Jared Kushner is senior adviser to President Trump. Chris Liddell is the White House deputy chief of staff for policy coordination. Seema Verma is the administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

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