Senate Committee Seeks EHR Interoperability Investigation
Bipartisan Senate Appropriations Committee wants an investigation into poor interoperability, possible "information blocking" in electronic health records.
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Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee this week sought an investigation into whether taxpayer-supported software is preventing the free exchange of patient records between non-partnering healthcare organizations.
In the committee's response to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) fiscal year 2015 budget, the bipartisan group of senators pointed to so-called "information blocking," and detailed steps the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) -- which oversees EHRs -- should take to ensure the free flow of patient data between healthcare organizations.
Emails to several members of the Senate Appropriations Committee did not receive replies by press time.
The difficulty of sharing patient information is a common sore point for many health professionals. Earlier this month, Mony Weschler, chief IT strategist at Montefiore Medical Center, implored healthcare software developers to open their APIs and standardize data sharing in an article he wrote for InformationWeek. In June, ONC unveiled a 10-year interoperability roadmap, building on a vision that National Coordinator for Health IT Karen DeSalvo began sharing soon after taking on the office's leadership role.
Recently, the Rand Corporation released the report "Redirecting Innovation in US Healthcare," which found that several technologies would reduce costs and improve outcomes -- if interoperability improved. Not only must interoperability become better, but Rand determined some vendors "proactively block" the sharing of clinical and administrative information. To comply with meaningful use, EHRs must integrate, something applications might accomplish through the main application or via an add-on.
Vendor executives have pointed to their interoperability initiatives. Epic users exchanged 313,000 records with users of other systems in June 2014, Peter DeVault, director of interoperability at Epic, told Politico. Epic, which was criticized in the Rand report, saw tens of thousands of those data exchanges within federal agencies alone, he said.
"If you talk to our customers and [see] the ease in which they're able to set up connections with non-Epic sites, you'll find exactly the opposite, that we have a great reputation," DeVault said in the article.
Interoperability is too important to take at face value or to rely on patches, especially when so many healthcare professionals continue to clamor for improvements, said Jim Bialick, president of the Patient Safety Movement Foundation, in an interview.
"It is time that we took a close look at all of this; interoperability, at its core, is a patient safety issue. Interoperability is central to realizing the promise of health IT and that extends beyond sending records back-and-forth, point-to-point. Nobody seems to be
Alison Diana has written about technology and business for more than 20 years. She was editor, contributors, at Internet Evolution; editor-in-chief of 21st Century IT; and managing editor, sections, at CRN. She has also written for eWeek, Baseline Magazine, Redmond Channel ... View Full Bio
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