WASHINGTON - Leaders of the Senate Finance Committee have sent a letter to 200 groups and individuals to ask how to make digital health data easier to use. The letter from Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden and Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley solicits suggestions for reforms in transparency rules.
The senators have been pushing for public access to the country’s massive Medicare database, parts of which have recently become available, letting Americans find out how much the government paid individual doctors.
Wyden and Grassley’s request for suggestions also comes as the country prepares for the release of newly gathered information about the financial ties between health care providers and medical device and drug companies.
The Physician Sunshine Act was part of the national health reform law. It requires the first comprehensive public disclosure of payments and other exchanges of value between devicemakers and drugmakers and the people and institutions that use the products on patients.
The government is scheduled to post its first batch of Sunshine Act information online Sept. 30.
The senators sent their letter to consumer, health care, physician and insurance organizations and asked for responses by Aug. 12.
In Minnesota, the letter went to Gov. Mark Dayton, Hennepin County, the Mayo Clinic, Medtronic Inc. and St. Jude Medical Inc.
Specifically, Wyden and Grassley want to know in what form health data can be most useful. They also ask what data should be more broadly available and what barriers exist to using data effectively.
Digital health data “has great potential for use by consumers who can be empowered to choose providers who best fit their specific needs; by providers who can improve and deliver higher-quality care; and by payers who can design the most efficient and effective delivery models,” the senators wrote.
Anyone with a suggestion can file it online by e-mailing email@example.com.
Responses will become public.
Partners for Healthy Dialogues, a self-described “collaboration between health care provider groups and biopharmaceutical and medical technology organizations,” used the Wyden-Grassley letter as a platform to express concern about the public’s interpretation of soon-to-be-released information about industry payments to doctors and hospitals.
“Without context around this data,” a spokesman said in a statement, “it will have little or no value to those who are able to access it. Just seeing a name and a dollar sign fails to benefit the public or improve patient care.”