Electronic Health Records

Adoption & Implementation News

HELP Committee Drafts Bill To Drive Patient-Centered EHR Use

The Senate HELP Committee's new draft bill for health IT and EHR use will focus on data sharing, patient access to data, and interoperability to produce patient-centered results.

By Sara Heath

New health IT and EHR legislation will largely focus on data sharing, patient access to health information, and effective patient matching, according to a summary draft of Chairman Lamar Alexander’s promised health IT legislation.

The draft legislation, which was released yesterday for review and public comment, includes eight different sections which all lead into one overarching goal – better interoperability and EHR use. The draft legislation was prepared by Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee chairman Lamar Alexander and ranking member Patty Murray.

Congressman Alexander says that this legislation, as well as feedback on it, is important for improving overall patient care, which is one of the ultimate goals of the healthcare industry.

“Health information moving seamlessly among doctors and hospitals is vital for the future of medicine and essential to improving patient care,” Congressman Alexander said in a public statement. “The committee has been working for months on legislation to help improve electronic health records, and it involves especially technical work to get this right, which is why our committee looks forward to feedback on today’s draft from doctors, hospitals, health IT developers, and other experts in this area of health care.”

Improving physician EHR use

The bipartisan legislation contains eight parts, the first of which is reducing provider burden, thus increasing quality patient care. The legislation does this by getting rid of certain documentation requirements, giving non-physician providers such as nurses and physician assistants the ability to document, and creating specified health IT certifications for physician specializations.

The legislation also contains provisions under the Transparent Ratings on Usability and Security to Transform Information Technology (TRUST IT) Act. This calls for universal ratings systems for different health IT products and allows users to share personal testimony of a certain system or technology.

Decreasing data blocking, increasing interoperability

Data blocking and interoperability are focal points of the legislation. By giving the Department of Health & Human Services’s (HHS’s) Office of the Inspector General (OIC) the right to investigate vendors, providers, or other entities displaying evidence of intentional data blocking, the HELP committee hopes to better enforce and ultimately eradicate this practice and increase effective data sharing.

Data sharing networks, model interoperability frameworks, and digital provider directories are all tenets of the legislation’s interoperability proposals. The bill will require HHS “give deference” to private sector interoperability developments, as well as emphasize the most pressing current interoperability issues.

The bill would also combine the HIT Policy Committee with the HIT Standards Committee to create the HIT Advisory Committee, creating a more effective and all-encompassing committee to create health IT protocol. Such protocol could potentially include standardized information documentation; for example, the way in which patient dates of birth would be standardized to make patient matching and interoperability easier.

Making health IT patient-centered

The legislation pushes health IT in a more patient-centric direction. By requiring certified health IT to exchange data with physician registries, and requiring vendors to participate in Patient Safety Organizations, health IT makes a patient safety turn.

Patient safety could also be enhanced through patient access to health information. Through different educational programs and health IT reforms, the legislation calls for increased patient access to health information.

The legislation also accounts for health data security by certifying that EHRs are secure for data sharing.

The legislation concludes by calling for Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigations into best practices for secure patient record matching. Patient matching has been a notable topic across the healthcare industry, as it helps providers identify a patient’s exact medical file. Often, physicians have to weed through different documentation standards, or try to discern which of many Jane Does a medical file belongs to.

The HELP committee will be accepting comments on the draft legislation until January 29. According to ranking member Patty Murray, the committee is eager to hear feedback from providers, health IT developers, and other industry stakeholders in order to make improvements.

“I’m pleased that we were able to make bipartisan progress toward strengthening our nation’s health IT infrastructure so that patients, families, and providers have better tools to drive medical decision-making and treatment,” Murray said. “This draft legislation is an important step forward, and I look forward to hearing feedback from doctors, patients, health IT developers, and experts from Washington state and across the country.”

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