Senate panel orders scrutiny of alleged EHR 'information-blocking'

The Senate Appropriations Committee has directed the ONC's Health IT Policy Committee to submit a report on the technical, operational and financial barriers to information-sharing among electronic health records systems--what it calls the "information-blocking problem"--and what should be done to combat it.

The order comes in a draft budget report that recommends a $61.474 million budget for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT rather than the $74.688 million HHS had requested in March.

"ONC should use its authority to certify only those products that ... do not block health information exchange," the budget report states. "ONC should take steps to decertify products that proactively block the sharing of information because those practices frustrate congressional intent, devalue taxpayer investments in [certified EHR technology], and make [the technology] less valuable and more burdensome for eligible hospitals and eligible providers to use."

Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) raised the issue at a July 17 hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's subcommittee on communications, technology and health.

"It may be time for this committee to take a closer look at the practices of vendor companies in this space given the possibility that fraud may be perpetrated against the American taxpayer," said Gingrey, who is also a physician.

He expressed concern that more than half of the $24 billion spent by the Meaningful Use program has gone to customers of Epic, a vendor operating a "closed platform." Senate Democrats have joined Republicans in calling for more scrutiny, reports Politico.

Interoperability has been a major goal--and major frustration--with the Meaningful Use program. HHS made interoperability one of its major goals for the next fiscal year in proposing a nearly $75 million budget for the ONC. That's $3 million less than it asked for last year; funding in 2014 was set at $60.325 million.

To learn more:
- find the full draft budget report (.pdf)
- read the Politico article