Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse Blog

Don Taylor 04-21-2016

Balancing Data Innovation with Health IT Regulation

Don 1

Healthcare information technology (HIT) is becoming an ingrained part of the contemporary healthcare experience. Every year, new health tech startups unveil innovations designed to improve patient relationships and outcomes, but making a meaningful impact is more difficult than it may seem. Often the healthcare technology industry clashes with important legislation and regulation.

The Office of the National Coordinator for HIT (ONC) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) set guidelines and regulations for HIT and electronic health record (EHR) usage. Physicians and hospitals who adhere to these directives can earn incentive payments. But they need to prove they are following standards of interoperability and meaningful use.

Interoperability and Meaningful Use

Interoperability describes the exchange of healthcare information between various systems and devices and organizations to help facilitate better patient outcomes. Meaningful use of EHRs is supposed to be better facilitated through interoperability, but it has presented more roadblocks than pathways. The perceptions of EHR use and interoperability are mixed. About 30% of physicians believe that EHR implementation would have a negative impact on their productivity and drive their costs higher. 54% of are dissatisfied with the interoperability of their EHRs. However, about 60% of physicians expressed satisfaction with their EHR systems, and as of 2013 about 78% had adopted some form of EHR.

Mark Friedberg, a senior natural scientist with the RAND corporation, says the ONC has never incentivized effective interoperability for EHRs. Dr. John D. Halamka reports that the ONC is creating a “charter organization” to better monitor and manage interoperability, but criticizes them for wanting to focus on the process and not the outcomes. In fact, with the various reforms and bills that have been proposed, interoperability only seems to be getting more and more complicated.

For health IT startups to work effectively with physicians, hospitals, and patients, the regulation of interoperability and EHRs needs to be simplified and geared toward outcomes. While the regulatory landscape is still quite crowded, there are companies who are making strides toward outcome- and relationship-focused HIT. Hability, for example, is making it easier for physicians to share information and check in with patients outside of their practice.


Hability’s focus is patient relationship management. Their online portal allows physicians to securely share information with patients and track their recovery progress via phone calls and text messages. Through an automated system, physicians and caregivers can schedule messages to patients based on their particular treatments and needs. Physicians can even use Hability to check in with patients who have missed appointments and share documents and resources to help with recovery and care.

Simple and versatile platforms like Hability can help set an example and pave the way for more effective meaningful use of EHR and potentially have an impact on interoperability standards. While larger organizations like the ONC or CMS focus on the regulations and process, health IT startups will continue to find simple, outcome-oriented solutions to improve care.