Senate Committee Hearing Focuses on Patient Access to Electronic Health Records
September 24, 2015 09:55 AM
On September 16, 2015, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a hearing titled “Achieving the Promise of Health Information Technology: Improving Care Through Patient Access to Their Records.” The hearing focused on improving the exchange of health information and patient’s access to their electronic health records.
While the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act became law in 2009 and included mandated reforms and investments in health information technology, major barriers to interoperability remain. Many have expressed concern about the meaningful use program contained in the legislation, which set the criteria for meaningful use of electronic health records and established incentives for qualifying providers. It also established penalties for failure to the achieve standards. The program excludes certain providers, such as home care and hospice providers, from receiving the incentives.
At the hearing, Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) called for a delay of the final rules for stage three of the meaningful use program. Instead, he argued the requirements should be phased in.“Patients need an interoperable system that enables doctors and hospitals to share their electronic health records, but the government, doctors and hospitals need time to do it right,” Alexander said. “Some hospitals have told me they are ‘terrified’ by the prospect of stage three. It does not help patients to makes these massive changes fast and wrong. It does help patients to do this deliberately and correctly so that hospitals and doctors embrace the changes instead of dread them.”
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) also raised concerns with meaningful use, particularly about the need to improve patient access to their records.
These concerns were reiterated by the hearing witnesses. Raj M. Ratwani, a professor at Georgetown University Medical Center, said “the usability of electronic health records, patient portals, and personal health records remains subpar and is a significant challenge that we must overcome immediately.” Kathy Giusti, Founder of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, said there needs to be a greater focus on patient engagement: “The ability to understand, integrate, aggregate and analyze EHRs [electronic health records] is on the critical path to improving outcomes and accelerating cures.” Eric Dishman, a Fellow and General Manager of the Health & Life Sciences Group at Intel encouraged providers not to delay the transition to adopting Meaningful Use standards. He noted that current EHRs don’t include imaging, genomic, consumer health, claims and other important information, and thus a common standard is needed to “drive towards innovation” in EHRs.
In discussing patient access to health information, Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) raised concerns about the lack of reliable internet access in certain, particularly rural, parts of Maine and the rest of the country.“Maine is the oldest state in the nation,” Collins said. “There are parts of our state where Internet access is simply not available at all…it’s one thing to say patients should be accessing their portal…it’s a lot harder if you are an elderly person without a computer living in rural Maine where access to the Internet is very limited or non existent…”
The National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC) supports efforts to remove barriers to and provide assistance for the adoption of health information technology. NAHC believes Congress should work with the Administration to provide financial incentives for home care and hospice providers to adopt and use electronic health records and also encourage the exchange of health information electronically between hospitals, physicians and home health agencies.
For more information about the hearing, including witness testimony, please click here.