Senate HELP Committee unveils draft HIT legislation

The U.S. Senate's Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee, on Wednesday, unveiled a discussion draft of legislation it hopes will improve the overall use and development of health information technology. The bill is one of seven that will be voted on by the Senate in lieu of voting on the full 21st Century Cures Act package passed by the House, Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) announced.

The legislation, which includes measures of the Transparent Ratings on Usability and Security to Transform Information Technology (TRUST IT) Act proposed last fall by Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), will heavily emphasize interoperability and usability of electronic health records systems. It calls for:

  • The creation of an independent "unbiased rating system" for health IT tools, which allows for user feedback
  • A "network of networks" to foster interoperability: The bill says that such a network would be convened by existing data sharing networks and fueled by a "common agreement" for securely exchanging health data
  • A digital provider directory
  • Federal investigations into information blocking: The Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General would have the authority to examine and "establish deterrents to" information blocking practices
  • Documentation privileges for nonphysician care team members, such as nurses, on behalf of physicians
  • Overall reduction of documentation by providers, strategies and goals for which would be developed both by public and private stakeholders
  • The combination of the Health IT Policy and the HIT Standards committees into one HIT Advisory Committee
  • Establishment of an "initial set of common data elements" to propel interoperability: For example, a standard format for entering a patient's date of birth
  • Improved patient safety efforts: This includes a requirement that certified physician registries transmit and receive information from certified health information technology systems, as well as vendor participation in patient safety organizations
  • Patient matching efforts: The bill would require the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study reviewing patient matching methods

At the Health IT Joint Committee meeting earlier in the day, members of the Certified Technology Comparison Task Force recommended that ONC not be on the hook for the development of a health IT comparison tool; they maintained that while the Certified Health IT Product List should be advanced as "an information resource for private sector tools," it should not serve as a "buyer guide."

Jeff Smith, vice president of public policy with the American Medical Informatics Association, told FierceHealthIT via email that the inclusion of vendors in patient safety organizations is "vital," adding that it will lead to greater transparency and understanding of potential health IT-related harms. He also called the provision for a study on patient data matching "long-overdue," calling it an important factor for shining a light on the dangers of mismatched patient information.

"As one of likely 15 Jeff Smiths in my Brooklyn apartment, I am sensitive to the need to have better patient matching," he said.

Both the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) and Health IT Now lauded the draft legislation. In particular, CHIME President and CEO Russell Branzell, like Smith, said in a statement that he was encouraged by the patient matching directive, especially in light of the organization's recently announced national patient ID challenge. Health IT Now Senior Vice President Robert Horne, meanwhile, called the issues of information blocking and interoperability "top priorities" for his organization's members.

Feedback on the draft legislation is due to the Senate committee by Friday, Jan. 29.

To learn more:
- here's the draft legislation (.pdf)
- read the HELP Committee's announcement  
- here's Alexander's announcement
- view the Certified Technology Comparison Task Force's slides
- check out CHIME's statement (.pdf)
- here's the Health IT Now statement (.pdf)

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