Are EHR vendors holding patient data hostage?

To spur data exchange, the government should consider letting market forces work to spur electronic health record vendors to lower their prices, according to a blog post from Niam Yaraghi, a fellow at the Brookings Institution's Center for Technology Innovation.

In his blog post, Yaraghi says that the HITECH Act, which created the Meaningful Use Incentive program, is one of the few healthcare laws that still has bipartisan support. However, the government created a "hole" that it now has to dig itself out of because it did not anticipate that the vendors would limit interoperability and charge high prices to provide it. Since the EHR market is now "saturated," the only way vendors can currently make money is by charging for data sharing.

"EHR vendors have taken patient data hostage and are not willing to release it unless they receive a big ransom," Yaraghi says. "They typically claim that technical problems limit the interoperability of their products. This prevents physicians from sharing their patient records with other doctors. This is like T-Mobile claiming that its users cannot make calls to AT&T customers."

Yaraghi, who also has warned that relying on health information exchanges to achieve interoperability won't work, suggests that the government now has three choices: pay the ransom, which appears to be the government's current strategy; take more regulatory control and force the vendors to share data, which will cause push back from vendors and take too long; or do nothing.

He recommends that the government do nothing and allow the move to value based reimbursement and coordinated care, which requires data sharing, to spur providers to choose vendors that will provide that capability. That, in turn, will require the vendors to charge reasonable prices or go out of business, he says.

The Brookings Institution is hardly the first to suggest that the government should let market forces shape interoperability. Last month the National Center for Policy Analysis recommended that ONC's role in health IT should be significantly reduced in light of its missteps with the Meaningful Use program.

To learn more:
- here's the blog post