Electronic Health Records

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HELP Clears Improving Health Information Technology Act

“If we want to build a healthcare system that works for patients and families, strengthening our health IT infrastructure must be a priority."

By Frank Irving

With health IT interoperability as one of it seven pillars, the Improving Health Information Technology Act (S. 2511) received unanimous support from Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee members yesterday. The legislation now moves on for a vote on the Senate floor at an as-yet-undetermined date.

Commenting on the passage in a public statement, HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said, “Our goal is to make our country's electronic health record system something that helps patients rather than something that doctors and hospitals dread so much that patients are not helped. We have worked for months – with input from those who actually use the system – to help improve health information technology and I’m glad to see this legislation move forward as part of a successful first meeting on our committee’s bipartisan biomedical innovation agenda.”

The committee also passed on Feb. 9 six medical innovation and research bills that it hopes to package with additional health/medical legislation on HELP’s March 9 meeting agenda. Ultimately, the committee intends to produce companion legislation to the House’s 21st Century Cures Act.

S. 2511’s main sections cover the following areas:

  1. Helping doctors and hospitals improve quality of care by reducing documentation burdens (including allowing non-physicians on care teams to document on behalf of physicians), and encouraging certification of health IT products for specialty providers and sites of service.
  2. Establishing an unbiased rating system for health IT products. Such a system would allow technology users to share experiences with specific products related to security, usability, interoperability and other concerns.
  3. Bestowing authority to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)’ Office of the Inspector General to investigate and establish deterrents to information blocking practices.
  4. Developing a model framework and common agreement for the secure exchange of health information across existing data sharing networks. Also, a digital provider directory would be created within three years of enactment to facilitate information exchange and allow users to verify the correct recipient.
  5. Requiring certified health IT products to exchange data with registries — with the provision that the registries use standards endorsed by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT.
  6. Supporting development of technology that would enable patients to access their health information through secure and user-friendly software that may update automatically. This patient-empowerment section also encourages the use of health information exchanges to promote patient access, and requires HHS to clarify when providers may share patient information.
  7. Directing the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study to review methods for securely matching patient records to the correct patient.

HELP Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) summarized, “If we want to continue building a healthcare system that works for patients and families and puts their needs first, strengthening our nation’s health IT infrastructure must be a top priority. I’m pleased that with this legislation, Democrats and Republicans have been able to reach agreement on policies that will help empower patients and providers with more and better information to help drive treatment and improve health outcomes.” 





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