As chairman of the Senate health committee, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) is at the epicenter of congressional efforts to delay Stage 3 of the electronic health records meaningful use program. Speaking on Monday at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, Alexander discussed the current state of electronic health records and potential legislative fixes.

“Electronic medical records went along pretty well while the government was giving out $30 billion to doctors and hospitals—nobody complained very much about that. But now the money’s gone and the system is a little bit in the ditch, there’s a lot of complaining from the doctors and the hospitals about the next stage of electronic medical records. The system isn’t working very well and has a variety of problems with it,” said Alexander.

Also See: Congress Considers Putting Brakes on Stage 3

Much is riding on the success of the EHR Meaningful Use program, according to Alexander, not the least of which is the Obama administration’s $215 million Precision Medicine Initiative, which is designed to collect data from a million or more volunteers as part of a national research cohort. EHRs are supposed to play a critical role in the initiative, yet the lack of interoperability remains a serious hurdle to achieving medical breakthroughs, with providers struggling to meet even modest health information exchange requirements under Stage 2 of Meaningful Use.   

Without interoperable EHRs industry-wide, Alexander warned that “precision medicine won’t work very well if doctors can’t easily use the information from your genome as they make their diagnosis or they transmit information.”

Alexander’s Senate health committee has created a bipartisan working group to identify ways that Congress and the Department of Health and Human Services can work together to improve EHRs, including interoperability. “I’m working with HHS Secretary Burwell on that,” he commented. “If we come up with five, six, or seven things that she can do by executive order, so much the better—that’s easier and cheaper.”

However, if legislation is required, Alexander said that Congress can go that route as well. In a July 23 hearing on EHRs, he said a bipartisan working group will complete its work by this fall and that a legislative fix—if needed—could be developed early next year.         




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