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GAO Report: Government’s Electronic Health Records Program Actually Slowing Down Data Sharing Between Doctors and Hospitals

Majority of electronic health records experts surveyed say the meaningful use program’s requirements take time away from achieving this “interoperability”

WASHINGTON, D.C., Sept. 30 – A study done by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), known as the “Congressional Watchdog,” revealed that the federal government’s program to require doctors and hospitals to adopt electronic health records systems is actually standing in the way of interoperability—that is, the critical exchange of data and communication between electronic health records systems.

The GAO conducted the study at the request of Senate health committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Senate Commerce Committee chairman John Thune (R-S.D.), Senator Agriculture Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kans.), Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.), and Senate Budget Committee chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.).

The GAO interviewed 18 groups outside of the federal government that specialize in electronic health records and are working to achieve interoperability of electronic health records.

GAO asked the representatives of these groups about the government’s program to require doctors and hospitals to create electronic health records systems, what is known as the “meaningful use” program.

Some key findings from GAO’s expert interviews:

·    Representatives from 10 of the initiatives said that the meaningful use program’s requirements “divert resources and attention from other efforts to enable interoperability.”

·     Representatives from 10 of the initiatives say that the criteria used to certify electronic health records systems under the meaningful use program are “not sufficient for achieving interoperability.” Three of these representatives suggested “amending the criteria to focus on testing systems’ ability to interoperate.”

·    Representatives of 5 of the initiatives suggest “pausing or stopping” the meaningful use program. 

Since 2009, the federal government has spent more than $30 billion to encourage the nearly 500,000 physicians and more than 5,000 hospitals who serve Medicare and Medicaid recipients to establish electronic health records systems through the meaningful use incentive program, which is carried out by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. This money was included in the HITECH Act, which was part of the 2009 stimulus package.

The requirements of this program are being implemented in stages, and the program is currently in stage two of implementation; however, this stage is so complex that only about 12 percent of eligible physicians and 40 percent of eligible hospitals have been able to comply.

One of the chief goals of this effort was to improve the electronic exchange of a patient’s health information between physicians’ offices and urgent care centers and hospitals and pharmacies—by both encouraging these practitioners to adopt these systems through the meaningful use program, and by encouraging manufacturers of the systems to make them able to communicate with one another—what’s known as “interoperability.”

The full report can be found HERE.