HHS, Congress plan collaboration to fix doc EHR problems

Legislators and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services appear to be on the same side regarding improving electronic health records for physicians so that they can enjoy using them, if the latest Senate hearing is any indication.

At an April 23 Senate appropriations subcommittee hearing of the Health Education, Labor and Pensions Committee regarding HHS' 2016 fiscal budget request, Chair Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) expressed concern to HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell (pictured) that despite $28 billion in subsidies pursuant to the Meaningful Use program, physicians are not adopting EHRs as hoped. He pointed out that he and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) have formed a bipartisan working group to identify five to six problems to be addressed either administratively or legislatively, if necessary, to correct them.

"Doctors don't like their electronic medical record systems by and large," he said. "They say they disrupt the workflow. They interrupt the doctor-patient relationship. They haven't been worth the effort."

Alexander then pointed out that an AMA-commissioned RAND study found that electronic health records are the leading cause of physician dissatisfaction.

"So, what I'd like to ask you is, will you commit to putting on your list of things that you'd like to get done in the year and nine months that you plan to be here working with us, identifying five or six things that would make this promise of electronic health records something that physicians and providers look forward to instead of something they endure?"

Burwell responded, affirmatively, adding that a working group of staff was "ready to go" and "committed" to such an effort.

"I think that this is extremely important," Burwell said. "In and of itself, but all of the things it touches. We're going to talk about so many things it touches."  

Burwell elaborated that EHRs affect issues such as opioids and heroin, precision medicine and delivery system reform.   

Congress has been paying increased attention to EHRs as more problems about them come to light. Physicians are using EHRs more than in the past, but satisfaction has not increased, and adoption appears to have leveled off.

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