AAFP's Wergin: Health records are being 'held hostage'

Neither patients nor their electronic health records are commodities, and they should not be treated as such, according to Nebraska family physician Robert Wergin, M.D., president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, in a blog post for The Hill.

Wegin blasted the lack of dependable, reliable electronic data exchange for causing the need for duplicative tests, increasing the risk of complications, failing to catch adverse medication problems and increasing costs. EHR communication should occur "immediately," he says.  

One of the problems he cited is EHR vendors' use of their own platforms, ensuring that none of them will accept, download or integrate records for a competitor's software, thus requiring providers to revert to the use of fax, emails, hand delivery and manual inputting.

Another significant problem is market competition, which incentivizes both vendors and health institutions to block information sharing. "Health records should not be held hostage to the business interests of EHR manufacturers or health systems," he states.

Citing a recent report from the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) on information blocking, Wergin points out that blockers will withhold information in order to enhance their market share or control referrals; physicians are also subject to barriers that hinder their ability to coordinate care, such as the high charges imposed for sending or receiving information.   

Wergin warns that the existing situation will have a negative effect on patient safety.

"Physicians' first priority is patient care. They've taken an oath to do no harm. But the current electronic health record environment puts patients at risk because vital health information may not be available at the point of care when health information technology systems fail to communicate with one another," he points out.

Information blocking is an "underappreciated" problem that has only come to the forefront in recent months. Congress called for ONC to deal with information blocking in December, FierceEMR previously reported. ONC's report, released earlier this year, blamed both vendors and providers for contributing to it and offered suggestions to prevent it.

To learn more:
- read the blog post