Joe Biden: Sharing of health data 'a matter of life and death'

WASHINGTON--Not even the vice president of the United States is immune to poor electronic health record interoperability.

In a speech Monday at Health Datapalooza in the District of Columbia, Vice President Joe Biden shared that in the midst of his son Beau's treatment for brain cancer, the family struggled to have health records sent between providers at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. In fact, he said, because the two health systems' EHRs were not compatible with one another, the information needed to be physically transported from the Bethesda, Maryland-based hospital to Houston.

Beau Biden died last May.

"I'm the vice president of the United States," Biden said. "I have a ... very influential son-in-law who's a first-rate, well-known surgeon. It took all that and more to get [Beau's data] put on a disk and flown down to Anderson."

Without mentioning Meaningful Use by name, Biden referenced the EHR incentive program started by the Obama Administration in 2009, saying that the U.S. spent $35 billion to avoid such scenarios from unfolding.

"We didn't realize that five different companies would come along and create their own silos," Biden said.

He called the current state of affairs "a matter of life and death," saying that the industry must eliminate technical roadblocks that prevent patients from obtaining their own medical records.

Biden also talked at length about the need for researchers to share information with one another to improve potential breakthroughs in the fight against cancer. In the president's State of the Union Address in January, Obama tasked the vice president with leading the Cancer Moonshot effort to eliminate the disease.

"Every day, thousands of people are dying," Biden said. "Millions more are desperately looking for hope, desperately looking for another day. One more month. Maybe another year. ... We are on the cusp of significant breakthroughs. ... We have to work together."