(Washington, DC) – The House Committee on Science and Technology’s Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation held a hearing to discuss the integration of information technology (IT) with health care as a means to improve patient care and lower escalating health care costs. The use of electronic health records has the potential to prevent some of the medical mistakes that lead to the deaths of over 98,000 patients annually. Enabling physician access to electronic health records could reduce duplicate medical tests and adverse drug interactions, while providing instant access to a patient’s medical history in emergency situations.
“The health care industry is still surprisingly paper-based and largely unaided by information technology. Medical treatment in this country often involves state-of-the-art equipment. However, physicians and other health care providers have been slow to adopt health IT systems and electronic health records—instead, they’re still keeping track of our medical information the same way they were 50 years ago,” stated Subcommittee Chairman David Wu (D-OR).
“Our current health care system relies on the patient to be the record keeper. The quality of care a patient receives may depend on the person’s ability to recall detailed information about drug names and dosages. As our population ages, the importance of maintaining a comprehensive record of all medications a patient is taking and the treatments they have received will only increase. Replacing paper medical records with secure electronic records will improve care as multiple doctors treating the same patient will have accurate and timely information,” Wu continued.
In addition, the development of health IT would allow physicians to share test results with colleagues across the country for consultation, reducing the need for costly repeat tests and the miscommunication that can cause numerous medical errors. Studies suggest that eliminating inaccuracies related to paperwork and enabling better communication between health care providers could improve treatment and lower health care costs significantly.
Witnesses discussed progress made by the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and non-governmental health IT stakeholders to establish standards that will ensure the privacy and security of electronic health care information, as well as enable interoperability among products developed by different vendors. The panel discussed how a lack of established standards for health IT has been a key challenge hindering wider adoption of this technology. Without standards to ensure that information can be exchanged seamlessly between software and hardware devices from different manufacturers, doctors and hospitals are reasonably reticent to make initial investments in health IT systems.
In 2009, with the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Congress created programs and incentives to help speed the adoption of health IT. In addition, the act provided a mechanism to establish technical standards and said that any health IT products purchased with Recovery Act funds must comply with standards established by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). With guidance from several advisory committees, HHS issued a final rule in July of this year identifying standards that would support the first stage of Medicare and Medicaid incentive payments for health IT products.
“We still have a ways to go in promoting interoperability, coordinating the many health IT projects underway, governing the standards development process, and providing direction on privacy and security. Modernizing our health care system with information technology is imperative for lowering health care costs and improving patient care,” stated Subcommittee Chairman David Wu (D-OR).
The initial standards established by HHS provide an important baseline of functionality for health IT products. However, witnesses noted that many standards-related issues have not yet been fully addressed. To ensure the seamless exchange of health information among authorized entities and realize the full benefit of health IT, the health care community will need robust standards for interoperability. In addition, the standards process will require coordination to ensure that developers are able to support the needs of the health care community as health IT evolves. Finally, ensuring the coordination of standards and technology to support the exchange of patient records will help us meet the goal of fully integrating electronic medical records into our health care system.
For more information, visit the Committee’s website.