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Senate HELP Committee Begins Hearings on EHR Program

June 10, 2015
by Gabriel Perna
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Sen. Lamar Alexander (Credit: Sen. HELP Committee)
The Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held its first hearing this week on improving the meaningful use program and overall adoption of electronic health records (EHRs). 
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Chair of the Senate HELP Committee, opened the proceedings by talking about the overall goal of the hearings. He said the aim is to make the adoption of EHRs something physicians can look forward to and not dread. 
“To put it bluntly, physicians and doctors have said to me that they are literally "terrified" on the next implementation stage of electronic health records, called Meaningful Use Stage 3, because of its complexity and because of the fines that will be levied,” Alexander said in the hearing. “My goal is that before that phase is implemented, we can work with physicians and hospitals and the administration to get the system back on track and make it a tool that hospitals and physicians can look forward to using to help their patients instead of something they dread.”
During the first hearing, which focused on health information exchange, Alexander recommended that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) implement a partial delay of Stage 3. This has been a sentiment echoed by physician advocacy groups such as the American Medical Association (AMA) and the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA). 
The hearing included testimony from Craig D. Richardville, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer of Carolinas HealthCare System in Charlotte and Chair of Premier Inc.'s Member Technology Improvement Committee. Richardville said that because of the lack of interoperability between systems, "patients and care providers are missing opportunities to improve people’s health and welfare when information about care or health status is not easily available." He recommended better governance structures, data standards, and increased transparency measures from the government on data exchange as potential methods for improvement. 
Also testifying was Thomas Payne, M.D., Board Chair of the American Medical Information Association and Medical Director of IT Services at the University of Washington School of Medicine; Christine Bechtel, Advisor for National Partnership for Women & Families; and Neal Patterson, CEO of Kansas City-based EHR vendor, Cerner.
"Current health IT systems lack true interoperability, and the lack of true interoperability is failing patients. Without it, we risk missing the moonshot transformation that has positively changed other industries and lives," Patterson said in his remarks. 
Sen. Alexander appointed Sen. Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA) as chair of the committee overseeing the next hearing, which will take place on Tuesday, June 16. Cassidy, a doctor, has been an active in his complaints over the current interfaces of EHR systems. In a hearing from a few months back, he question a representative from Epic Systems (Verona, Wisc.) and told him the company's interface was "1990" in appearance. 
"Senator Cassidy’s background as physician makes him the perfect chair for this important hearing,” Chairman Alexander said in a statement. “Our goal, through the hearings and our committee’s bipartisan working group, will be to identify the five or six steps we can take to improve electronic health records—technology that has great promise, but has, through bad policy and bad incentives, run badly off track.”
After that, the third hearing will be Chaired by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), Alexander announced during the first hearing.  

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