Senate Committee, Stakeholders Look To Address Health IT Issues

During a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on Wednesday, senators and stakeholders discussed issues regarding Stage 3 of the meaningful use program, barriers to interoperability and patients' access to data, FierceHealthIT reports.
Under the 2009 economic stimulus package, providers who demonstrate meaningful use of certified EHRs can qualify for Medicaid and Medicare incentive payments (Dvorak, FierceHealthIT, 6/10).
During the hearing, committee members heard testimony from:

  • Christine Bechtel, president and CEO of the Bechtel Health Advisory Group;
  • Craig Richardville, CIO at Carolinas HealthCare System;
  • Thomas Payne, board chair-elect of the American Medical Informatics Association; and
  • Neal Patterson, CEO of EHR vendor Cerner (Monegain, Healthcare IT News, 6/11).

Hearing Details on Meaningful Use, EHRs
During this week's hearing, Alexander cited statistics showing very few eligible professionals and eligible hospitals have attested to Stage 2 of the incentive program, in part because its requirements are "so complex" (Slabodkin, Health Data Management, 6/11).
In addition, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) noted that some physicians are facing payment cuts under the Medicare meaningful use program "because they are struggling to meet requirements for the use of" EHRs.
In his testimony, Payne said that CMS should delay Stage 3 of the meaningful use program "until it's improved." He noted that an AMIA task force recently urged CMS "not [to] rush to get to the next stage of meaningful use, but rather wor[k] to help the private sector accelerate optimization of the tools and regulations that are already in place" (Health Data Management, 6/11).
However, Bechtel said that delaying Stage 3 of the program could hinder patient engagement efforts (FierceHealthIT, 6/10). During the hearing, Bechtel stressed the importance of patients being able to access and control their health data, saying, "The fact is, as the patient, I am the only one present at all of my health care encounters." She added, "If I have the data, I can spot errors, avoid repeat tests, detect fraud, help facilitate coordinated care and much more. I can be the curator of my own health record, sharing it where and when it is needed to improve my care, and for other important purposes like research into precision medicine" (Healthcare IT News, 6/11).
Bolstering Interoperability
Meanwhile, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) during the hearing questioned why achieving interoperability has been so difficult.
In his testimony, Richardville said that "improving health information exchange and achieving true interoperability" has become "one of the key challenges of our time." He noted that industry efforts to bolster interoperability have made some progress, but stressed the importance of the federal government's role in defining standards and promoting "policy principles that further open health IT infrastructures."
Meanwhile, Patterson said that vendors and providers "must enable sufficient transparency around data sharing to allow keeping a watchful eye on [information sharing blocking] behaviors in our industry" (Health Data Management, 6/11).
In a statement for the hearing, the American Hospital Association called on Congress and the Obama administration to "create a policy environment" that supports interoperability initiatives.
AHA recommended changes in policy to:

  • Create an infrastructure for information exchange;
  • Give providers greater flexibility regarding implementation of EHRs; and
  • Hold vendors accountable for developing interoperable systems (AHA News, 6/10).

Alexander, Murray Announce Future Health IT Hearings
At the start of the hearing, Alexander and Murray announced the launch of a series of meetings aimed at improving health IT.
The next hearing, which will be held June 16 and will be chaired by Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), will focus on ways to improve health IT experiences among physicians. The third hearing in the series will focus on improving patients' access to their health data (Committee release, 6/10).
Source: iHealthBeat, Thursday, June 11, 2015

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