Explaining the 21st Century Cures Act: tackling the challenge of healthcare interoperability

New advances in medicine happen daily. But despite spending billions of dollars, we haven’t been able to connect the network of healthcare providers in the United States. The 21st Century Cures Act may help.

The 21st Century Cures Act, or H.R. 6, reauthorizes the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and provides other funding to the agency through FY 2020. We are walking away from disease treatments and actively searching for cures — methods to resolve the root problem. New efforts rip off the band-aids of temporary relief to unmasking problems. Lifesaving and life-improving therapies have the potential to transform our quest for faster cures.

Genesis of the bill

To accelerate the discovery, development and delivery of 21st-century cures is the bill’s goal. Said another way, the goal of this bill is to save lives.

The 21st Century Cures Act, introduced by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Michigan), was overwhelmingly passed by the House. Here’s a timeline of its journey to the president’s desk:

  • May 19, 2015: Rep. Fred Upton introduces bill.
  • Nov. 30, 2016: The House passes the bill.
  • Dec. 7, 2016: The Senate passes the bill.
  • Dec. 13, 2016: President Barack Obama signs it into law.

The act has three pillars: discovery, development and the delivery of cures.

1. Discovery ensures that the NIH is provided with a total of $4.8 billion in new funding. This monetary injection includes $1.5 billion to advance the Precision Medicine Initiative to drive research into genetic, lifestyle and environment variations of disease plus $1.8 billion to fuel Vice President Joe Biden’s Cancer Moonshot initiative and support the BRAIN (Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) initiative to improve our understanding of diseases like Alzheimer’s.

2. Development addresses the fact that while advancements of human genome mapping have been impressive, translating this into FDA-approved treatments has proved difficult. Modernizing clinical trials (analyzing the safety and efficacy of data), utilization of biomarkers (to assess how a therapy is working), and empowering the FDA to utilize flexible approaches to reviewing medical devices. This section also provides the FDA with $500 million for regulatory modernization to retain the best and brightest scientists, doctors and engineers.

3. Delivery helps to put newly tested and approved drugs into the hands of patients, at the right time. Interoperability of electronic health records systems for a seamless patient experience is the essence of delivery. Patients need access to their complete health profile (longitudinal medical record) to fully realize the benefits of a learning healthcare system. Rounding out the bill is healthcare provider education to empower seniors with the latest medical technology.


The bill is lengthy: It has 25 sections and runs to 996-pages. The Energy and Commerce Committee of the House of Representatives published a helpful section summary that carved out the intent while omitting the exact letter of the bill. Our discussion will concentrate on interoperability covered under “Title IV: Delivery” where interoperability is addressed in multiple sections:

  • Sec. 4001. Assisting Doctors and Hospitals in Improving Quality of Care for Patients: encourages certification of health information technology for specialty providers.
  • Sec. 4002. Transparent Reporting on Usability, Security, and Functionality: Calls for the creation of reporting system to gather information about electronic health record (EHR) usability and interoperability.
  • Sec. 4003. Interoperability: Supports the creation of a digital healthcare directory (a voluntary model framework and common agreement) to facilitate exchange and requires the HHS to defer to the private sector on health IT standards development.
  • Sec. 4004. Information Blocking: Grants the HHS Office of the Inspector General authority to assign penalties for practices that block the sharing of electronic health records.
  • Sec. 4005. Leveraging Electronic Health Records to Improve Patient Care: Encourages the exchange of health information between registries and EHR systems.
  • Sec. 4006. Empowering Patients and Improving Patient Access to their Electronic Health Information: Certification of patient-centered electronic medical records and promotion of health information exchanges to promote patient access.
  • Sec. 4007. GAO Study on Patient Matching: GAO study of methods for securely matching patient records to the correct patient.
  • Sec. 4008. GAO Study on Patient Access to Health Information: Authorizes the GAO to review barriers to access, healthcare complications and patient methods for requesting their health information.
  • Sec. 4009. Streamlining Transfers Used for Educational Purposes: Physicians are now exempt from reporting income received for the purpose of speaking or preparing materials for educational presentations on medical topics.
  • Sec. 4010. Improving Medicare Local Coverage Determinations: Decisions by a medicare administrative contractor (MAC) about whether to cover a particular service must be public on the website.
  • Sec. 4011. Medicare Pharmaceutical and Technology Ombudsman: Establishment of a new role to address problems relating to coverage of new and life-saving technologies.
  • Sec. 4012. Medicare Site-of-Service Price Transparency: Requires the public availability on a website of Medicare services for estimates of items and services and beneficiary liability (cost to the beneficiary).
  • Sec. 4013. Telehealth Services in Medicare: Establishes a bipartisan working group focusing on telemedicine to explore improvements for dually eligible conditions (Medicare, Medicaid and chronic conditions) that might improve with telehealth.

A future connected

The Energy and Commerce Committee published a useful fact sheet reviewing the bill’s goals of helping patients through biomedical innovation. The progressive pace of scientific advancements must get better at translating discoveries into cures for patients. H.R. 6 champions the quest for faster cures by doing the following:

  1. Removing barriers to increased research collaboration.
  2. Incorporating the patient perspective into the drug development and regulatory review process.
  3. Measuring success and identifying diseases earlier through personalized medicine.
  4. Modernizing clinical trials.
  5. Removing regulatory uncertainty for the development of new medical apps.
  6. Providing new incentives for the development of drugs for rare diseases.
  7. Helping the entire biomedical ecosystem coordinate more efficiently to find faster cures.
  8. Investing in 21st-century science and next-generation investigators.
  9. Helping to keep and create jobs in the United States.
  10. Reducing the deficit by over $500 million.

Feb. 17, 2017, will mark nine years since the $35 billion HITECH Act (Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act) was passed. What has HITECH accomplished? It’s accepted that adoption of electronic health records is more prolific and that market competition dynamics have improved. Sharing of patient lab results, radiology reports and summary of care records on average improved 48.5 percent since HITECH passed.

The 21st Century Cures Act amends the HITECH Act by requiring providers of healthcare services to establish goals, strategies and recommendations by Dec. 13, 2017. Acknowledgment that patient-focused drug development is required is a positive start to finding better cures in 2017.

Previous articleTeleradiology platforms: the business case for blockchain
Next articleTop 3 blockchain-based healthcare companies to watch in 2017
Peter is a technology executive with over 20 years of experience, dedicated to driving innovation, digital transformation, leadership, and data in business. He helps organizations connect strategy to execution to maximize company performance. He has been recognized for Digital Innovation by CIO 100, MIT Sloan, Computerworld, and the Project Management Institute. As Managing Director at OROCA Innovations, Peter leads the CXO advisory services practice, driving digital strategies. Peter was honored as an MIT Sloan CIO Leadership Award Finalist in 2015 and is a regular contributor to CIO.com on innovation. Peter has led businesses through complex changes, including the adoption of data-first approaches for portfolio management, lean six sigma for operational excellence, departmental transformations, process improvements, maximizing team performance, designing new IT operating models, digitizing platforms, leading large-scale mission-critical technology deployments, product management, agile methodologies, and building high-performance teams. As Chief Information Officer, Peter was responsible for Connecticut’s Health Insurance Exchange’s (HIX) industry-leading digital platform transforming consumerism and retail-oriented services for the health insurance industry. Peter championed the Connecticut marketplace digital implementation with a transformational cloud-based SaaS platform and mobile application recognized as a 2014 PMI Project of the Year Award finalist, CIO 100, and awards for best digital services, API, and platform. He also received a lifetime achievement award for leadership and digital transformation, honored as a 2016 Computerworld Premier 100 IT Leader. Peter is the author of Learning Intelligence: Expand Thinking. Absorb Alternative. Unlock Possibilities (2017), which Marshall Goldsmith, author of the New York Times No. 1 bestseller Triggers, calls "a must-read for any leader wanting to compete in the innovation-powered landscape of today." Peter also authored The Power of Blockchain for Healthcare: How Blockchain Will Ignite The Future of Healthcare (2017), the first book to explore the vast opportunities for blockchain to transform the patient experience. Peter has a B.S. in C.I.S from Bentley University and an MBA from Quinnipiac University, where he graduated Summa Cum Laude. He earned his PMP® in 2001 and is a certified Six Sigma Master Black Belt, Masters in Business Relationship Management (MBRM) and Certified Scrum Master. As a Commercial Rated Aviation Pilot and Master Scuba Diver, Peter understands first hand, how to anticipate change and lead boldly.