The FTC has been a consistent proponent of competition in health care markets, utilizing our full range of study, advocacy, and enforcement tools. We are equally proud of our track record in promoting innovation and responding to new technological developments throughout our 100-year history. The FTC is well-positioned to monitor competition in today’s burgeoning health information technology (IT) marketplace – relying on our combined expertise in health care, technology, and health-related privacy and data security issues.
At the FTC’s March 2014 Examining Health Care Competition workshop, one panel focused on advances in health care technology, including electronic health records, health data exchanges, and new hardware and software platforms used by health care providers and payers. As panelists explored the competitive landscape, they discussed the goals of interoperability, the potential for health IT to facilitate greater efficiency and coordination of care, and the need to promote continued innovation. They also warned of potential threats to competition from high switching costs, data lock-in, misguided standard-setting activities, and other features of health IT systems and platforms.
Our technology panel benefitted greatly from the participation of two senior officials from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), the federal agency charged with oversight and coordination in this important area. Since the workshop, FTC and ONC have strengthened our relationships, and we continue to collaborate on many levels. For example, FTC competition and consumer protection staff are playing an active role on the Federal Health IT Advisory Council, the interagency working group that helps to develop the federal health IT strategic plan.
We support ONC’s efforts to develop an “interoperability roadmap” and related guidance that will promote competition, efficiency, innovation, and coordination of care, while achieving ONC’s overall policy goals. We are working with ONC staff to identify potential competition issues relating to health IT platforms and standards, market concentration, conduct by market participants, and the ability of health IT purchasers to make informed buying decisions. ONC’s companion blog post highlights some of the areas of mutual interest.
In return, we are benefitting from ONC’s expertise and industry knowledge as we learn more about how health IT markets operate, which health IT features are desired by providers and patients, and what types of conduct may benefit or harm health IT competition and innovation. ONC staff are helping us to evaluate issues that may be worthy of additional FTC research, advocacy, and investigation.
FTC staff, together with our ONC partners, will continue to pay close attention to developments in health IT markets. We already know that competition is central to improving health care quality and outcomes, reducing costs, and improving the consumer experience. We and ONC agree that competition in health IT markets is equally important to drive quality and value in health care.