Senate works toward improving EHR adoption

Although electronic health record adoption has soared over the past few years, many health experts have noted that there are still problems with poor-quality EHR systems and vendors. Senator Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., recently announced these issues in a press release, commenting on the difficulty a lot of providers are having with the implementation process due to a lack of interoperability and care coordination benefits. 

The importance of high-quality EHR systems
Alexander's most recent press release was not the first time he spoke up about the issues many health professionals are having with poor EHR systems. According to EHR Intelligence, in March 2015 he pointed out in a Senate health committee hearing that there are still many problems with the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs.

Instead of boosting EHR adoption among providers with flexible standards, the federal government has implemented strict payment penalties on health care facilities that have yet to adopt EHRs. These penalties make the idea of adopting an EHR system much less enticing to providers, hindering the implementation rates across the health care sector.

Interoperability is another problem that is turning providers off from the idea of EHR adoption. While health IT is meant to improve the transfer of data between different practices to ensure high-quality care coordination, the absence of systems that improve interoperability is causing the EHR Incentive Programs to take away from care quality instead of enhancing it. Even if Medicare payments are cut by 1 percent in 2015, the reduction is not large enough to assist providers in improving care coordination. The small payment cut is also unlikely to have a significant effect on EHR adoption.

New bipartisan committee set to boost EHR adoption
Alexander has established a bipartisan committee with Ranking Member Patty Murray, D-Wash., to help enhance the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs in a way that will increase EHR adoption. The committee is currently making an effort to get Congress and the Senate health committee to help health care providers and hospitals to enhance patient safety and care quality.

"After $28 billion in taxpayer dollars spent subsidizing electronic health records, doctors don't like these electronic medical record systems and say they disrupt workflow, interrupt the doctor-patient relationship and haven't been worth the effort," Senator Alexander said in a public statement

The committee is also planning on improving patient experience by enabling patients to gain access to their health information with user-friendly systems. Alexander is hoping to ensure that patient safety and privacy are protected by health IT as well. The committee has invited all members of the Senate to become involved in the group. Alexander is presently working with health IT developers and medical professionals to meet the committee's goals. 

"As we focus on making our health care system work better for families, electronic health records could not be more important," Murray said in the press release. "Having more and better information can make all the difference for patients, so I look forward to working with Chairman Alexander and members of our committee to strengthen our nation's health IT infrastructure and improve quality of care and patient safety in Washington state and across the country."

The fact that there are inefficient EHR systems and vendors producing poor-quality systems that disrupt practice workflows rather than improve them emphasizes how important it is that health professionals invest in technologies that have been designed by professionals with experience in the health care sector. While general EHRs work for some physicians, providers should consider specialty EHRs that were developed by experts in their specific fields to ensure that their investment will ultimately work toward enhancing care quality.