Senate Introduces Legislation to Improve EHRs

2016-02-02 | American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons

The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee this month released a draft of a health information technology (IT) bill aimed at achieving interoperability and addressing information blocking. The draft is also meant to spur the flow of patient records and improve the usability of Electronic Health Records (EHRs). Specifically, it gives the Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General the power to investigate and punish information blocking and requires a public-private collaborative to make recommendations on cutting red tape for physicians.

“Health information moving seamlessly among doctors and hospitals is vital for the future of medicine and essential to improving patient care,” stated HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN). “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.”

The 68-page draft includes Sen. Bill Cassidy’s (R-LA) legislation – the Transparent Ratings on Usability and Security to Transform Information Technology (TRUST IT) Act of 2015 – that was introduced in October to help ensure that certified health IT systems are performing as promised in the field while establishing a rating system that will enable consumers to compare different products based on that performance.

The overall bill is a companion to health IT provisions in the House’s 21st Century Cures legislation that was passed in July. A markup of the bill is set for February 9.

Below is a summary of the draft legislation, which is also linked HERE:

  • Assisting Doctors and Hospitals in Improving Quality of Care for Patients
    • Reduces documentation burdens by convening public and private stakeholders to develop goals, a strategy, and recommendations to minimize the documentation burden on providers while maintaining quality.
    • Allows and encourages health professionals to practice at the top of their license, allowing non-physician members of the care team, such as nurses, to document on behalf of physicians. 
    • Encourages the certification of health information technology (HIT) for specific specialty providers, like pediatricians, where more specialized technology is needed.
  • Transparent Ratings on Usability and Security to Transform Information Technology
    • Establishes a rating system for HIT products to help providers better choose HIT products.
    • Allows HIT users to share feedback on the user experience of specific HIT products related to security, usability, and interoperability, among other concerns.
  • Information Blocking
    • Gives the HHS Office of the Inspector General authority to investigate and establish deterrents to information blocking practices that interfere with sharing of electronic health information.
  • Interoperability
    • Convenes existing data sharing networks to develop a model framework and common agreement for the secure exchange of health information across existing networks to help foster a “network of networks.”
    • Creates a digital provider directory to both facilitate exchange and allow users to verify the correct recipient.
    • Requires that HHS give deference to standards developed in the private sector.
    • Combines the HIT Policy Committee and HIT Standards Committee into the HIT Advisory Committee.
    • Creates a process for prioritizing the adoption of standards to focus on the most pressing problems faced by the health care community.
    • Establishes an initial set of common data elements, such as a standard format for entering date of birth, to facilitate interoperability and streamline quality reporting.
  • Leveraging Health Information Technology to Improve Patient Care
    • Requires that certified HIT transmit and receive data from certified physician registries and that registries be certified to transmit and receive from certified HIT.
    • Includes vendors in Patient Safety Organizations to allow for improvements in the safety and effectiveness of HIT.
  • Empowering Patients and Improving Patient Access to Their Electronic Health Information
    • Supports the certification and development of patient-centered health record technology so that patients can access their health information through secure and user-friendly software, which may update automatically.
    • Encourages the use of Health Information Exchanges to promote patient access by educating providers and clarifying misunderstandings.
    • Requires HHS to clarify situations where it is permissible for providers to share patient information by providing best practices and common cases where sharing is allowed.
  • Encouraging Trust Relationships for Certified Electronic Health Records (EHR)
    • Supports the secure exchange of electronic health information by certifying that one EHR product is capable of trusted exchange with multiple other EHR products.
  • GAO Study on Patient Matching
    • Directs the Governmental Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a study to review methods for securely matching patient records to the correct patient. 

AAOS recently submitted comments to the committee in support of the legislation. Read the comments and more on health IT advocacy efforts on the AAOS website here: