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Senate HELP Committee Chairman Says “Information Blocking” Stands in Way of Patients, EHRs

July 23, 2015
by Rajiv Leventhal
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During a hearing on the practice of “information blocking” on July 23, Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) spoke openly about how information blocking is an obstacle to interoperability in healthcare.

It was the committee’s fourth in a series of hearings intended to solve problems with the federal government’s six-year-old, $30 billion program meant to encourage adoption of electronic health records (EHRs) at doctor’s offices and hospitals.

Alexander, who chaired the meeting, said, “If I found myself suddenly at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center emergency room and the doctors there wanted to get my paperwork from the hospital and doctors I usually use—information blocking means that there is some obstacle getting in the way of my personal health information getting sent to them.”

He continued, “This could happen a few different ways: My usual hospital refuses to share my information. The electronic systems at both hospitals don’t talk to each other. My usual hospital says it will charge Vanderbilt a huge fee to send my electronic records. My usual hospital says it can’t share them for privacy reasons. Or, my usual hospital won’t send them because they cite concerns about data security.”

He added: “Since 2009, the American taxpayer has spent $30 billion to spur doctors and hospitals to install electronic health records systems—through incentive payments to Medicare and Medicaid providers.”

“But interoperability—this communication between systems that is so critical to the success of electronic health records—has been difficult to achieve. Information blocking is one obstacle to interoperability, and I’m interested in hearing today from the witnesses the extent to which this is a problem – and the extent to which the government may share in the blame,” said Alexander. 

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