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Senate HELP Committee Releases Draft Bill to Improve Health IT

January 21, 2016
by Rajiv Leventhal
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The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee has released for comment draft legislation aimed at making electronic health records (EHRs) more interoperable.

The draft legislation released on Jan. 20 is the product of a bipartisan, full committee health information technology working group announced by Senate health committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) in April—as well as a series of bipartisan hearings in the committee held throughout 2015. Those hearings had the intent to solve problems with the federal government’s six-year-old, $30 billion program meant to encourage EHR adoption. Alexander has specifically been urging federal officials for months to delay Stage 3 of the meaningful use program, while asserting that information blocking is standing in the way of achieving interoperability.

As such, the just-released 68-page draft bill aims to improve health IT (HIT) for patients and families. The bill has several pieces and goals, including:

1) Assisting doctors and hospitals in improving quality of care for patients by:

  • Reducing 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;
  • Allowing and encouraging 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;
  • Encouraging the certification of health IT for specific specialty providers, like pediatricians, where more specialized technology is needed

2)  Including provisions of the Transparent Ratings on Usability and Security to Transform Information Technology (TRUST IT) Act of 2015 by Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), which establishes an unbiased rating system for health IT products to help providers better choose between them

3) Eliminating information blocking by giving the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the Inspector General the authority to investigate and establish deterrents to information blocking practices that interfere with appropriate sharing of electronic health information

4) Furthering interoperability by:

  • Convening 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”;
  • Creating a digital provider directory to both facilitate exchange and allow users to verify the correct recipient;
  • Requiring that HHS give deference to standards developed in the private sector;
  • Combining the HIT Policy Committee and HIT Standards Committee into the HIT Advisory Committee;
  • Creating a process for prioritizing the adoption of standards to focus on the most pressing problems faced by the healthcare community;
  • Establishing an initial set of common data elements, such as a standard format for entering date of birth, to facilitate interoperability and streamline quality reporting

5) Leveraging health IT to improve patient care by: requiring that certified HIT transmit and receive data from certified physician registries and that registries be certified to transmit and receive from certified HIT; and including vendors in patient safety organizations to allow for improvements in the safety and effectiveness of HIT

6) Empowering patients and improving patient access to their electronic health information by: encouraging the use of health information exchanges (HIEs) to promote patient access by educating providers and clarifying misunderstandings; and requiring 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

7) Encouraging trust relationships for certified EHRs by supporting the secure exchange of electronic health information by certifying that one EHR product is capable of trusted exchange with multiple other EHR products

8) Directing the Governmental Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a study to review methods for securely matching patient records to the correct patient

In a press release statement, Alexander said, “Health information moving seamlessly among doctors and hospitals is vital for the future of medicine and essential to improving patient care. 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 healthcare.”                   

The Senate committee is requesting feedback on the draft by Jan. 29. The bill is scheduled for consideration by the committee in a Feb. 9 executive session.

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