Lawmaker Eager to Reduce Technology Barriers for Physicians

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By James Swann

The proper use of electronic health records is critical for the future of the health-care system, but a senior Republican lawmaker says physicians still face too many technical burdens.

For example, many physicians can’t exchange electronic health records with other providers, a process known as interoperability, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said Oct. 31. Alexander, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, spoke at a hearing on health information technology.

Physicians also spend two hours of work on EHRs and desk work for every one hour spent with a patient, Alexander said, citing a 2016 study from the American Medical Association.

Alexander said that while regulations are important and have their place, they can sometimes inhibit innovation in the private sector. He pointed to nongovernmental efforts like the Center for Medical Interoperability, a Tennessee-based group of nonprofit, for-profit, and university-based hospitals. Alexander said the center has enough purchasing power to demand better interoperability from EHR vendors.

The hearing reviewed the implementation of health information technology provisions contained in the 21st Century Cures Act, a 2016 biomedical innovation law.

Government Witnesses

Witnesses from both the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (part of the Department of Health and Human Services) agreed that physician burdens are too high when it comes to EHR use.

“There are still too many burdens on physicians, and we are a long way from interoperability,” Kate Goodrich, chief medical officer and the director of the Center for Clinical Standards and Quality at the CMS, said at the hearing.

Goodrich said the CMS will be referring any cases of information blocking to the Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General. Information blocking refers to inappropriately impeding the flow of data, and can happen when a vendor deliberately blocks the flow of data from another vendor.

The ONC has also been engaged in supporting the implementation of the Cures Act and working on reducing regulatory and administrative burdens on physicians, Jon White, deputy national coordinator at the ONC, said at the hearing.

White said the ONC is working closely with the CMS on reducing physician burdens.

Enough Funding?

While the hearing was largely focused on reducing provider burdens and increasing interoperability, HELP Committee ranking member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said she was concerned that the Trump administration was looking to slash the ONC’s budget, which could compromise its work on interoperability.

The Trump administration’s fiscal year 2018 budget request called for $38 million for the ONC, a $22 million dip from the FY 2017 continuing resolution level.

When asked by Murray how the cuts could potentially affect the ONC, White said the ONC wouldn’t be able to implement an EHR reporting program.

The reporting program was contained in the Cures Act, and would include information on EHR products, including their security, interoperability, and certification testing.

To contact the reporter on this story: James Swann in Washington at jswann1@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Kendra Casey Plank at kcasey@bna.com

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