Senate Committee Talks Electronic Health Records (EHRs)
The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a hearing June 10 to investigate ways Congress can help solve the immediate problems of the implementation of meaningful use Stage 3, enhancing electronic health record (EHR) interoperability, and increasing patient access to data as a means of enhancing quality of care for patients. The hearing was the first of a series of bipartisan hearings focused on possible solutions to achieve the promise of health information technology (HIT).
“Today’s hearing sets the table for an important series of hearings the committee will hold over the summer focused on how we can improve electronic health records for doctors and their patients,” said Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) in his opening statement. “Our goal, through the hearings and our committee’s bipartisan working group, will be to identify the five or six steps we can take to improve electronic health records—technology that has great promise, but has, through bad policy and bad incentives, run badly off track.”
“If we want to continue improving the quality and value of health care patients and families receive, we absolutely need to strengthen our nation’s health IT infrastructure,” stated Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA). “I’m pleased that the Committee shares this bipartisan priority and I look forward to working together on ways to empower patients and providers with more effective, efficient electronic health records.”
The second committee hearing, entitled “Achieving the Promise of Health Information Technology: What Can Providers and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Do To Improve the Electronic Health Record User Experience,” was held on June 16 and focused on how to improve the EHR system and the burdens EHRs put on physicians. Senator Bill Cassidy, MD (R-LA) chaired the second hearing, and emphasized that doctors spend too much time focusing on medical records and overly burdensome documentation requirements as opposed to interacting with their patients.
“As a physician, time is better spent looking into a patient’s eyes to make sure that she comprehends that even though she has cancer, there is hope— as opposed to clicking through a computer screen to document something unimportant to her and required by someone far removed from the exam room,” said Cassidy.
Throughout the hearing, it was acknowledged that EHRs have the ability to improve quality of care, but it was pointed out that many physicians have struggled to meet the first two phases of requirements for the Meaningful Use program. CMS proposed a rule in April that would ease some of the reporting burdens and give more flexibility to hospitals, physicians, and other providers (read more in an earlier Advocacy Now article here), but concerns remain. AAOS submitted comments to CMS in June expressing concern that some Meaningful Use stage 3 proposed requirements may not be achievable given technology limitations outside of physician control, while other measures may be set at unrealizable levels (read more in Advocacy Now here).
“Complaints of increased time burdens on the practitioner, loss of provider interactions with patients and frustration with new requirements and changed workflows dominated discussion among providers, even as the capability of EHR’s to reduce errors and improve communication had grown,” said Boyd Vindell Washington, president of Unified Medical Group and chief medical information officer of Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System.