06.10.15

Murray: Efficient, Secure Information Sharing is Critical to Improving Quality and Value of Care for Patients

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) delivered remarks at a HELP Committee hearing on Health Information Exchange: A Path Towards Improving the Quality and Value of Health Care for Patients. In her opening statement, Murray highlighted how effective health information technology has improved the quality of care in Washington state and across the country. She also discussed ways to build on recent progress in the field, including priorities like helping doctors share information across systems developed by different vendors, supporting the development of stronger networks to give providers more options for trustworthy information sharing, and ensuring security that can stand up to the challenges of the 21st century.

Key excerpts from Senator Murray’s opening statement:

“As I’ve said before, I believe strongly that when it comes to our health care system, we really need to keep building on the progress we’ve made so far. We need policies that continue to make health care more affordable—not less, expand coverage to more families—instead of taking coverage away, and improve the quality of care patients receive. I’m pleased our committee is focusing on improving our nation’s health IT infrastructure, because effective health information technology is essential to improving quality and cost of care. And I’m especially pleased that this is a shared, bipartisan priority.”

“In my home state of Washington, for example, Virginia Mason Medical Center now has more than 100,000 patients who are able to look up their health information through Virginia Mason’s medical record. And Virginia Mason is also helping patients and their doctors keep in touch in more efficient ways. Every week, doctors at Virginia Mason exchange more than 15,000 secure emails with their patients. That means patients can get more of their questions answered without making an appointment or being put on hold. And it means they are more empowered to work with their doctors to find the treatment that is best for them.”

“…there is a lot we need to do to build on this progress. Many physicians across the country are facing a Medicare payment reduction this year because they are struggling to meet requirements for the use of electronic health records. I’m very interested in speaking with our witnesses about the major gaps that still exist when it comes to interoperability, because this problem is preventing doctors from sharing information in a secure, efficient way.  And, as we find ways to help doctors share information across systems developed by different vendors, we also need to continue helping patients stay informed about and involved in their care.”

“We also need to continue supporting the development of a ‘network of networks’ so that providers have many options for trustworthy information sharing, and they don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time they need to exchange information with a new facility. Similarly, we should look for ways to make it easier for providers to shop for electronic records systems, and vote with their feet when one isn’t working. And finally, as electronic health records become more integral to our health care system, we need to look at ways to ensure security that stands up to 21st century challenges.”

Full text of Senator Murray’s opening statement:

“Thank you, Chairman Alexander—and thank you to all our witnesses for being here. I’m especially pleased to have a thought leader from Washington state with us.

“Dr. Payne, thank you so much for making the trip, and for everything you’re doing in Washington state to make our health care system work better for patients and their families.

“As I’ve said before, I believe strongly that when it comes to our health care system, we really need to keep building on the progress we’ve made so far.

“We need policies that continue to: make health care more affordable—not less, expand coverage to more families—instead of taking coverage away, and improve the quality of care patients receive.

“I’m pleased our committee is focusing on improving our nation’s health IT infrastructure, because effective health information technology is essential to improving quality and cost of care. And I’m especially pleased that this is a shared, bipartisan priority.

“Members on both sides of the aisle have some great ideas for ways we can move forward on these issues. And I know Acting Assistant Secretary Dr. Karen DeSalvo also sees this as a top priority as she moves into her new role.

“So I’m very hopeful we will be able to reach agreement on some ways to strengthen health IT in our country—because while we have come a long way in a short time, there is a lot more to do. 

“Over the last few years, our health care system has made significant gains in terms of adopting electronic health records.

“Today, 78 percent of physicians use some form of electronic health records, compared with just 18 percent in 2001.

“The HITECH Act that was passed in 2009 was a big part of that transformation.

“And I truly appreciate the work that so many doctors and hospitals have done to bring our health care system into the 21st century and improve the value and quality of care patients receive. This is really making a difference.

“In my home state of Washington, for example, Virginia Mason Medical Center now has more than 100,000 patients who are able to look up their health information through Virginia Mason’s medical record. And Virginia Mason is also helping patients and their doctors keep in touch in more efficient ways.

“Every week, doctors at Virginia Mason exchange more than 15,000 secure emails with their patients. That means patients can get more of their questions answered without making an appointment or being put on hold. And it means they are more empowered to work with their doctors to find the treatment that is best for them.

“But without question, there is a lot we need to do to build on this progress.

“Many physicians across the country are facing a Medicare payment reduction this year because they are struggling to meet requirements for the use of electronic health records.

“I’m very interested in speaking with our witnesses about the major gaps that still exist when it comes to interoperability. Because this problem is preventing doctors from sharing information in a secure, efficient way.

“And, as we find ways to help doctors share information across systems developed by different vendors, we also need to continue helping patients stay informed about and involved in their care.

“During our last hearing on health IT, Dr. Angela Kennedy of Louisiana Tech University shared a story that showed how big a difference electronic health records can make for patients.

“Dr. Kennedy explained that when she takes her adopted daughter Grace to the doctor, she is always quick to note that she does not know her daughter’s biological family medical history.

“Last year, the importance of having these kinds of records became clear when, after Grace failed to respond to allergy treatment, genetic testing revealed that she had a rare form of cystic fibrosis.

“Without access to accurate, thorough medical records, or the ability to correct errors in medical records, Grace’s illness—one that is usually identified right after birth—was not diagnosed until she was eleven years old.

“As Dr. Kennedy’s story makes clear, strengthening our health IT system is absolutely critical to ensuring patients get the care they need.

“There are a few steps I will be especially interested in looking at as we continue this effort.

“I know the meaningful use provision has caused a lot of frustration among physicians. So we need to do more to both set high standards and ensure providers have the support and flexibility they need to reach them.

“We should make sure that systems developed by different vendors, and used by different doctors, are able to speak to each other. That way, families like Dr. Kennedy’s will not have to spend countless hours tracking down and comparing documents from different sources. And providers will have quick, easy access to information about patients’ unique medical needs.

“We also need to continue supporting the development of a ‘network of networks’ so that providers have many options for trustworthy information sharing, and they don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time they need to exchange information with a new facility.

“Similarly, we should look for ways to make it easier for providers to shop for electronic records systems, and vote with their feet when one isn’t working.

“And finally, as electronic health records become more integral to our health care system, we need to look at ways to ensure security that stands up to 21st century challenges.

“These and other steps would go a long way toward improving our health IT infrastructure, and making our health care system work better for the patients and families we serve.

“As I said before, I’ve been truly pleased by the great ideas and interest that we’ve seen so far.

“I want to thank our committee members for being so willing to work with us on this, and for all the hard work they’ve put in already. I look forward to continuing our efforts in the coming weeks and months.

“And I’m hopeful we’ll be able to reach bipartisan agreement on some ideas that would make a real difference for patients and their families.”