In late April, Alexander and the panel’s top Democrat, Patty Murray, announced full-committee working groups for staff, homing in on ways to improve electronic health records. Since then, the groups have held discussions with health providers, information-technology developers, and other experts in the health IT field—a way of learning what’s really happening on the ground.
Since the hearings have come to a close, the working groups are setting priorities of items to be included in the bill, and through the panel’s six hearings, they already have insight into members’ thoughts on ways to advance electronic health records.
Alexander’s statements and public remarks have noted that the committee has “been working with the administration diligently for months to develop seven areas of agreement for legislation to actually achieve interoperability.” They are: Decreasing what he called “unnecessary physician documentation,” letting patients have easy access to their records, having electronic health records be more accessible to the whole health-care team, halting information blocking, improving standards, bettering records’ security and privacy, and making sure that a certification of a records system means what it says it does.
“We’ve really become very interested in electronic health care records, which are essential to precision medicine, which is the president’s proposal, and to the shared goal of Congress and the president to change the way we pay doctors from fee-for-service to the quality of the service they deliver,” the Tennessee Republican said in an interview. “And in both cases, having good, functioning electronic health care records helps the doctor do a better job of serving patients. And that program got off track.”
At the last hearing, Murray said standards need to be developed so that doctors and hospitals can understand data even if it comes from a different electronic record system and from a different hospital. A “network of networks” needs to be created so that health providers can share information, she said, equating this with a Verizon cell-phone user being able to call a friend with a Sprint plan.
And there are more top goals for the Washington state Democrat: Developing robust security, facilitating easy ways for providers to shop and compare electronic records systems, and helping patients have access to their health data.
“If you can easily look up and download your bank statement, you should be able to do the same with your medical history,” Murray said at the final health IT hearing on Oct. 1. “But for far too many patients, these experiences are very different. … I think we can and must do better.”
There’s a bipartisan bill that addresses a portion of these concerns that HELP Committee members Bill Cassidy and Sheldon Whitehouse introduced in early October, and according to a HELP GOP aide, Alexander expects that many of their proposals could be incorporated into the committee’s upcoming medical innovation bill. The Trust IT Act of 2015 aims to establish a health IT rating system so that customers can compare products, prohibit health IT vendors from information blocking, mandate products meet security and interoperability requirements, and more.