The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee in February issued two requests for information (RFI) as it ramps up its work for 2023 and the 118th Congress. The RFI’s sought stakeholder feedback on two areas: drivers and solutions to the health care workforce shortage, and policies and priorities around the reauthorization of the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act (PAHPA) reauthorization. The HELP Committee is led by Chair Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Ranking Member Bill Cassidy, MD, (R-LA).
HIMSS feedback to the PAHPA reauthorization RFI illuminates ways in which health information and technology can be an instrumental and vital part of an all-hazard, global disaster management system. In recommendations to the HELP Committee, HIMSS recognizes the importance of the next round of reauthorization as it is essential to strengthening and sustaining the nation’s medical and public health preparedness and response capabilities in response to deliberate, accidental, and natural emergencies. First signed into law in 2006 and reauthorized in 2013 and 2019, the current reauthorization is due by September 30, 2023.
Specifically, HIMSS strongly urges Congress to consider harmonization of data-sharing efforts that are already underway by relevant organizations and systems. It is vital that ASPR, CDC, and other agencies supporting emergencies, including CMS and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) better align to close in the gaps through improved coordination. PAHPA can be leveraged to facilitate federal, state, and local authorities’ use of minimum necessary data for reporting and to serve a range of public health and other mission-critical use case.
HIMSS also proposes Congress consider how PAHPA can be leveraged to advance the application of 21st-century healthcare and innovative technologies through collaboration with healthcare partners and nontraditional, community-based partners to develop state health IT plans that document and assess the utility of advanced analytics in health emergencies, particularly exploring the potential of contemporary scientific and technological innovations, including concepts found in precision medicine, cognitive computing, natural language processing, and other forms of artificial intelligence that may expedite and contribute to detection and response to health emergencies.
In sum, HIMSS’ letter implores Congress to prioritize these strategies in the PAHPA reauthorization and to develop related resources not only to combat current health threats, including the COVID-19 pandemic, but to set the stage for a 21st Century Health System that is better able to prevent and eradicate insidious health threats.
HIMSS on March 20, 2023 submitted comments in response to the health care workforce shortage RFI. The RFI sought input from stakeholders to understand some of the drivers of healthcare workforce shortages and identify potential solutions. HELP Committee leaders, on these recommendations, intend to identify bipartisan solutions to remedy our nation’s healthcare workforce shortages and develop these ideas into legislation. While thanking the HELP Committee for their focus on workforce, HIMSS stated that Congress must work to ensure the U.S. has a healthcare and public health workforce capable of providing for the care and well-being of communities across the country.
There are many complex factors resulting in the current workforce burnout and retention challenges threatening our healthcare system, HIMSS noted. These include the changing expectations from patients that have accompanied the rapid evolution of digital health technologies, disproportionate increases in cost for training by healthcare professionals often financed by loan debt. These issues are compounded by an overall increase in administrative burden, in part, an unintended result of health delivery system modernization efforts such as widespread adoption of electronic health records (EHRs). The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated this crisis as healthcare workers dealt with unprecedented challenges in providing care to patients while dealing with shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), staffing challenges, and increased workloads, coupled with a growing distrust of healthcare workers due to some incorrectly informed public debate on the public health emergency and vaccine rollout. According to data from the AAMC, the U.S. could see an estimated physician shortage of up to 124,000 by 2034, and other reports cite the need for over 1 million new registered nurses by 2030 to address the current and future healthcare demand.
To help address the workforce crisis and alleviate the burden has placed on our healthcare system, HIMSS outlined several recommendations:
By facilitating greater patient-provider engagement, these technologies can greatly improve access to primary and specialty care, improve disease management (chronic and acute) and care coordination, and enhance the detection of early warning signs for diseases and identification of worsening or deteriorating conditions.
HIMSS believes the adoption and deployment of innovative technologies will dramatically improve patient outcomes and ease the burden on our already strained healthcare workforce. Innovation will aid in therapies, devices, and systems designed to advance patient-centered care across the care continuum, especially in the automation, remote patient monitoring, and telehealth space.
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The HIMSS policy team works closely with the U.S. Congress, federal decision makers, state legislatures and governments, and other organizations to recommend policy, and legislative and regulatory solutions to improve health through information and technology.