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AAFP Calls on HHS to Ease Physician Struggles with Health IT

A recent letter to newly confirmed HHS chief, the organization urged the federal agency and its departments to address four health IT-related issues impacting family physicians.

health IT systems

Source: Thinkstock

By Kate Monica

- With the new administration comfortably in place, several organizations have called on Tom Price, MD, and the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) to address aspects of health IT infrastructure negatively effecting the usefulness of EHR and health IT systems in improving care delivery.

The latest comes by way of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), which penned a letter to the HHS Secretary last week in which the organization laid out the most pressing health IT issues holding back clinical users from achieving the goals of value-based care.

"We need technology that enables us to collectively work smarter rather than harder in a period marked with increased clinical and administrative burdens and increasing primary care physician shortages," wrote Board Chair Wanda Filer, MD, MBA, of York, PA.

The benefits of EHR technology are widely accepted throughout the industry with healthcare organization leaders adamant interoperability is essential in delivering patient data for clinical decision-making at the point of care. However, problems remain. Specifically, AAFP cited the lack of access to relevant data for decision making as a primary cause of frustration.

“While some progress has been made in health IT interoperability, we are still far from where we need interoperability to be for continuity of care, care coordination, and to support a learning and accountable health care system. We need to continue to accelerate our momentum toward this goal, such as the work on Direct exchange,” Filer stated.

In addition to problems with interoperability, AAFP voiced concern over the lack of solutions targeting improvements to patient care in lieu of tools focused on streamlining documentation and the financial side of healthcare. In its letter to Secretary Price, the organization framed this issue as one of modernization and limitations in the functionality profiles of existing health IT systems.

"Too much focus has been placed on creating health IT solutions to automate the business of health care, especially documentation, as opposed to health IT solutions that support the delivery of appropriate care to promote health," Filer maintained. "We must create an environment that flips this focus."

In a slightly more emotional vein, AAFP voiced concerns over physician dissatisfaction as a result of limited health IT usability, which the organization cited as “extinguishing the joy of practice.”  Simply put, some clinicians find health IT systems to be more trouble than they’re worth.

"Clinician satisfaction with health IT continues to go down, not up," Filer argued. "There are numerous editorials and stories about health IT contributing to physician burnout and frustration." 

With value-based care and reimbursement becoming a main priority in the healthcare industry as a result of recent legislation — MACRA — guiding the industry to focus on quality rather than quantity of care provided, physicians are concerned about a disconnect between regulatory requirements on clinicians and the capabilities of existing EHR technology systems not designed to support them in fulfilling them. As a result, family practices must make adjustments inhibiting their ability to focus on patient care for fear of accruing payment penalties.

"This mismatch and subsequent burden and stress on family physicians is taking its toll on practices and diverting patient care resources to implement work-a-rounds to comply with regulations and avoid negative payment adjustments. This mismatch needs to be addressed by either reducing accountability on eligible clinicians, increasing the accountability on health IT vendors, or both," the letter stated.

Secretary Price was confirmed in a party-line vote on February 10. Following his confirmation, the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) advised the new HHS administration to consider recommendations for improving MACRA implementation among other policy suggestions.

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