News & Commentary

Q&A with Anthem’s Sheryl Turney, Newly Appointed to the GAO’s Health Information Technology Advisory Committee

October 9, 2017

ThinkAnthem recently spoke with Sheryl Turney, director of reporting & data analysis at Anthem, to discuss her recent appointment to the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) Health Information Technology Advisory Committee. The committee – which is comprised of 15 members who represent many health care stakeholder groups, including providers, consumers, health plans, researchers, patient advocates and health information technology developers – will provide recommendations to the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology on the implementation of a health information technology infrastructure. Upon her appointment, Sheryl Turney shared her vision for how safer and quicker data flow can improve the health care system and allow people to live healthier lives.

Q: Tell us about yourself. What is your background and what does your job at Anthem involve?

A: I oversee the data reporting team and data release policy for Anthem, as well as the all payer claims data (APCD) policy and enterprise strategy. Over the seven years that I’ve been with the company, we’ve seen that various states have implemented mandates for the collection of health care data for the residents of those states to help identify initiatives for reducing cost of care and achieving the Triple Aim[1].That’s how I got involved with data policy work, which was new to Anthem before I came on board and was something that I identified as a fast-growth area.

Q: You were recently appointed to the GAO’s Health Information Technology Advisory Committee. Can you tell us about that?

A: The committee was established under the 21st Century Cures Act, which was enacted in December 2016, to advance an interoperable health information technology infrastructure. Essentially, the group will provide recommendations to the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology on policies, standards, implementation specifications and certification criteria relating to the implementation of a health information technology infrastructure that advances the electronic access, exchange and use of health information.   

Q: What are the goals of the committee?

A: We’re going to be looking at policies and standards for implementing improvements in the ability to share and exchange information. It’s a particularly important goal because currently that’s an aspect of our current health information technology environment that would benefit from improvement and evolution. There are many patient, payer and provider manifestations where health IT needs to be shared between health care organizations and patients and the flow of data is challenging. I’ve even experienced access to health data issues myself, as a patient.

Other topics may include looking at the implementation of a national patient identifier and how that may provide a way to share personal health information (PHI) data more securely.

Q: Can you tell us more about your role on the committee?

A: Committee members serve various terms, from one to three years. I received a three-year appointment. I believe I was chosen because of the number of stakeholder groups I represent. I’m part of a payer organization—Anthem—and I also worked for two years at HealthCore, which is an Anthem subsidiary that specializes in health information research. That is a stakeholder group that is very important, but may not have been represented sufficiently by the committee’s current candidates.

I also have a very personal connection to this work because I have a child who has an orphan disease[2]. She has participated in hundreds of research projects and was also a named participant in the genome decoding.

Q: What value do you see in bringing the payer perspective to the committee?

A: Because payers have long histories of collecting claims data, and because that data has been requested and shared widely, payers have a lot of experience in the ways that data can be made available and also the challenges that can create. Claims data represents the past history—it tells you what happened. But it can't tell you what's going to happen. It's really important to combine that claims data with clinical data in order to create what we call a longitudinal patient record. This record is very important for predictive analytics and is critical when you aim to reduce the cost of care and improve the health of the patient at the same time. Being able to perform predictive modeling and analyze combinations of disease states allows us to identify the best type of care management. I think my awareness of this and my experience are unique on this committee.

There are also other instances in which we have seen the misuse of data in the industry, which is particularly important as we look at what the security and privacy protocols should be for the exchange of health data. We often focus only on the positive aspects of data sharing and we don’t always understand its dangers. I have been able to identify some of those potential pitfalls in the past and I hope to do that with this group as well, with real use cases and with real examples.

 Q: What are you most excited about with regard to this new role?

A: I have a passion for health information that comes naturally from my personal experiences. As a result of these experiences, it was a goal of mine when I joined Anthem to be in a position to influence the exchange of health information as well as improve the entire landscape. I don’t think people understand the precipice we’re at today; people who are alive today can actually benefit from participating in research projects that require the exchange of health care information.

There’s so much work going on in the health care community related to gene-based therapies that require the sharing of data and the free flow of information. Those things require protecting the identity of participating individuals. Over time, this committee will improve care to achieve the stated requirements of the 21st Century Cures Act[3]and will also improve the health and longevity of the people who are currently alive today[4]. That is something that prior generations couldn’t imagine and we are living it today.  It is a very exciting time to be involved in health care data information sharing and Anthem has been a long-standing leader in working to improve the appropriate sharing of health care data.

 

[1] The Triple Aim is a guide for the development of new approaches to modify the delivery of health care services by 1) improving the patient experience 2) improving population health and 3) reducing per capita cost. It was developed in 2008 by the Institute for Health Improvement. 

[2] An orphan disease is defined as a condition that affects fewer than 200,000 people nationwide.

[3] The goal of the 21st Century Cares Act is to promote the development and dissemination of modern treatments for age-old diseases.

[4] The 21st Century Cures Act established this committee with the goals of determining how best health information technology can be used to improve care, be it through electronic health record (EHR) infrastructure, the accurate, efficient exchange of PHI or other means.  

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