Using Data to Empower Patients Tops CMS Head's List

Through her national listening tour, Seema Verma has also found that regulatory burden is impeding care.

Even before she became the director of CMS, Seema Verma, MPH, knew well the challenges facing the institution. She had worked on the “frontlines of healthcare,” helping patients, providers, and organizations to understand challenges in delivering quality, working with state governments to run their Medicaid programs, and more.

Since she took over CMS earlier this year, the healthcare veteran has strived to take what she has learned, both in her career and on a nationwide listening tour, and apply it to her new job. The result: Verma aims to cut red tape and empower patients. “All decisions we make focus on that,” she said, referring to boosting CMS beneficiaries, during the keynote speech at the ONC Annual Meeting 2017, which took place this month in Washington, DC. “It’s difficult to navigate the healthcare system.”

Data will play a big part in Verma’s mission, she said. By corralling information, she hopes CMS will help patients determine where to go for care, the best physicians available to them, value, cost, and more. That effort, of course, will require enhanced interoperability across the country’s healthcare landscape, a personal issue for Verma.

But her work will not end with number crunching. A new CMS initiative geared toward digitizing information for tech-savvy soon-to-be-seniors is in the works, she said. The agency still mails out paper handbooks, which works well for people in their 80s, but younger folks will interact better with digital information, she said. Availability is critical for beneficiaries grappling with claims, quality, health plan, and provider data as they, say, search for hospice care.

Like much of the president’s administration, the CMS leader also aims to cut back on regulations. Healthcare, in particular, must meet many government-mandated objectives, she said, a point often echoed by physicians and other industry types.

Verma said she found that the “regulatory burden” has negatively affected patient care, pushing doctors to home in on paperwork. CMS, for instance, publishes 11,000 pages every year. She praised regulations’ role in maintaining integrity, value and safety—“but at some point, too much regulation can have a suffocating effect,” she said, noting that providers might be glued to their electronic medical records (EMRs) system instead of their patients.

What’s more, some information that is required to be reported is simply outdated, Verma said. She pointed to a process that calls for the inclusion of a page number, as if the information were kept in a physical book. “That doesn’t make sense anymore,” she said.

Room for cuts might exist around measurements, she said. Verma and other government leaders intend to consolidate and align these benchmarks across the healthcare system, a move that she said could aid in combating the opioid crisis.

A common complaint that she has heard: EMRs. Healthcare providers have often told her that such systems are built for billing, not care delivery. Plus, she said, EMR platforms do not always make it easy to report mandatory measures to CMS. One hospital hired 18 people to extract that information. “They have to do it manually to comply with us,” she added.