- Be careful what you wish for.
Not long after the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) emphasized the need for Congressional involvement to help promote healthcare interoperability and ensure health data exchange, two members of Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions revealed plans to ensure that EHR adoption and use lead to improve care delivery and care outcomes.
Earlier this week, Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) indicated that the committee would be convening a working group specifically for identifying ways to improve EHR technology.
“After $28 billion in taxpayer dollars spent subsidizing electronic health records, doctors don’t like these electronic medical record systems and say they disrupt workflow, interrupt the doctor-patient relationship and haven’t been worth the effort,” Chairman Alexander said in a public statement. "The goal of this working group is to identify the five or six things we can do to help make the failed promise of electronic health records something that physicians and providers look forward to instead of something they endure.”
In the joint statement, Alexander and Murray provided a list of ways that legislative and executive branches could work together:
- help doctors and hospitals improve quality of care and patient safety;
- facilitate information exchange between different electronic record vendors and different health professionals, referred to as “interoperability”;
- empower patients to engage in their own healthcare through convenient, user-friendly access to their personal health information;
- leverage health information technology capabilities to improve patient safety; and
- protect patient privacy and security of health information.
The official announcement of the EHR working group follows an exchange between Alexander and Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Burwell during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing last week on the subject of EHR adoption and usability:
One other area where I believe we can get something done is electronic health records, and you and I have talked about that.
ALEXANDER: Will you commit to putting on your list of things that you would like to get done in the year and nine months you plan to be working with us identifying five or six things that would make this promise of electronic health records something that physicians and providers look forward to instead of something they endure?
BURWELL: Yes, and after our meeting and our conversation, I think we've got a working group of staff ready to go, and we are committed to do that. I think this is extremely important in and of itself, but all the things it touches. We're going to talk about so many things that it touches. I'm sure I'm going to get question hopefully about opioids and heroin. Electronic health records touch that issue. The Precision Medicine issues we're talking about — electronic records touch that issue. Delivery system reform, creating a system of healthcare delivery that has better quality and is more effective and efficient — it touches that. And so we should focus on it in and of itself. Where healthcare is going and where everything is going in terms of our ability to serve the consumer, the patient, in the way we need to, this is a core part.
Congressional involvement in health IT is neither new nor unprecedented — the bills and legislation that created ONC and the EHR Incentive Programs were created by Congress — but it should going forward put into focus how much (or how little) members of the House of Representative and Senate know about where their commitment of taxpayer money actually went.