Tom Price weighs pros, cons of electronic health records at Senate HELP Committee hearing

Debate over the value of electronic health records arose at a meeting between legislators and Donald Trump’s choice for Health and Human Services secretary, Rep. Tom Price. 

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“I’m skeptical about electronic health records and their negative impact on productivity,” said Republican committee member Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana at the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee on Wednesday.

Price agreed that electronic health records can hurt productivity.

“We’ve turned many physicians and other providers into data entry clerks and it detracts … from their productivity but it detracts greatly from their ability to provide quality care,” he said.

But he defended their benefit, especially for patients.

“The electronic medical record and electronic health records are so important from an innovative standpoint; [they] allow the patient the opportunity to have their health history with them at all times and be able to allow whatever physician or other provider access to that,” he said.

“We in the federal government have a role in that, but that role ought to be interoperability; to make certain that different systems can talk to each other so that it inures to the benefit of the patient.”

Cassidy mentioned the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Care Center, which recently revealed plans to cut 1,000 jobs, citing significant financial issues that began with its rollout of a new electronic health record program last spring.

RELATED: MD Anderson layoffs highlight EHR finance woes

“I’ve had more than one physician tell me that the final regulations and rules relating to Meaningful Use were the final straw for them. And they quit,” Price said at the hearing. “When that happens we lose incredible intellectual capital in our society that can care for people.”

Further, it’s imperative to insure metrics “actually correlate” with quality of care, as opposed to anything that wastes providers’ time with documentation, he said. If the government listened to physicians, they would give very specific answers about what those metrics should be, he added.

Committee Chair Sen. Lamar Alexander said Stage 3 of Meaningful Use was a “nightmare” for early EHR adopter Vanderbilt Health in Nashville.  

“I had hoped that we could delay Stage 3,” the Republican Alexander said. “And I thought that maybe it could be as simple as saying to the physicians and providers … ‘If you’re a doctor and spending 50% of your time filling out forms, then either you’re doing something wrong or we’re doing something wrong and let’s work together for the next couple of years to see if we can get that down to a manageable level and create an environment where physicians and providers can spend their time talking instead of typing.'”