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CIO - The great promise of electronic health records (EHR) and health information exchanges -- that patients' health information can pass seamlessly among providers, vendors and health care systems -- will never be realized until those systems run on a set of common standards and achieve a greater level of interoperability.
That was one of the messages that scores of health IT advocates from around the country took to Capitol Hill last as they met with lawmakers from their home states to press for congressional action on an array of issues concerning the use of technology in health care.
"If you think about it, interoperability and health information exchanges are fundamental to health reform," John Loonsk, the chief medical information officer with CGI's federal division, said at a policy conference coordinated around the Capitol Hill fly-in, organized by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, a not-for-profit group that works to advance health IT initiatives.
Health IT Advocates Three 'Asks'
The push for greater interoperability around EHR systems was one of three "asks" the health IT advocates lobbied for in their meetings with lawmakers and staffers. They are also prevailing on members to champion a nationwide strategy for identifying patients and accurately matching them to their EHRs, citing industry estimates that between 8 percent and 14 percent of medical records contain faulty information that results from misidentifying the patient.
"We don't leverage the data that we have in as useful a way as we can. Personally, I think part of the solution is technological, but I actually think the technology part is the easy part." --Bryan Sivak, CTO of Department of Health and Human Services
Additionally, they are seeking congressional action to bring the quality reporting requirements associated with the federal EHR incentive program in line with those of other health IT compliance efforts in bid to move toward a nationally understood definition of clinical quality measures.
Each "ask" comes in response to the rapid and fragmented development of health IT systems, a fast-growing market that got a shot in the arm with the passage of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health -- HITECH -- Act of 2009, a provision of the omnibus economic recovery bill that created incentives for the adoption of EHRs and other health IT initiatives.
In the time since, the use of EHRs has "reached a tipping point," according to Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, which is overseeing implementation of the HITECH Act. In May, HHS announced that it had reached its goal of seeing EHRs deployed in 50 percent of doctor offices and 80 percent of eligible hospitals by the end of the year.
But putting EHRs in place is only the beginning of the story, and too often a lack of interoperability means that those systems operate in siloes, amounting to little more than a digitized version of paper records, Bryan Sivak, the CTO of HHS, said at last week's conference.