10.01.15

Murray Outlines Ways to Continue to Improve Care for Patients Through Health Information Technology

Murray highlights Washington state’s efforts to ensure patients get critical preventive care using electronic health records

 

(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 Achieving the Promise of Health Information Technology. In her remarks, Murray discussed how a strong health IT infrastructure is a critical part of building a health care system that works for patients and families and puts their needs first. Murray also outlined ways to continue to improve the health IT system, including ensuring organizations converge around common standards for exchanging digital information and that providers have many options for trustworthy information sharing, making it easier for providers to shop for electronic records systems, prioritizing security to stand up to cybersecurity threats, and improving patient engagement by ensuring electronic health records are accessible to patients.

 

Key excerpts from Senator Murray’s remarks:

“This is the sixth and final hearing in a series intended to explore ways that Congress can help improve health IT for patients and providers. Over the course of this conversation, we’ve heard striking examples that show how important electronic medical records are to providing patients with the care they need.  Whether it’s understanding a loved one’s full medical history, being able to look up your own health information online, or using a patient’s medical record to catch a dangerous interaction between her medicines, it is clear that a strong health IT infrastructure is a critical part of building a health care system that works for patients and families, and puts their needs first...But there is certainly more to do. And I’m pleased that over the last few months, this committee has explored ways to build on this progress in a bipartisan way. I’ve been focused on a few areas in particular.”

“I believe we need to prioritize standards—so that increasingly, systems developed by different vendors and used by different doctors, are able to speak to each other.  In the same way that an email sent from a Gmail account makes sense when it’s opened in Yahoo—data in one EHR system should be structured so that it make sense in others.  Other industries have been able to converge around common standards for exchanging digital information. It is important that health care organizations continue to adopt a standardized approach to sharing and using electronic health information.” 

“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. Put simply, this is like making sure that someone with a Verizon plan can call someone with a Sprint plan. Many organizations are working hard on this already.  They are developing networks that allow information to be shared between patients’ different health care providers. One great example is the Everett Clinic in my home state of Washington. They’ve set up the infrastructure to share information with 121 different providers—helping to make sure a doctor has as much information as possible on hand about her patient’s health.”

“We should also 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—or when an organization is, as we’ve discussed on the Committee, unnecessarily withholding data.”

“Security is another critical challenge. As electronic health records become more integral to our health care system, we need to prioritize developing technology and best practices that can stand up to the realities of today’s cybersecurity threats.”

“Finally—one area that I think is absolutely critical is patient engagement. If you can easily look up and download your bank statement, you should be able to do the same with your medical history. But for far too many patients these experiences are very different… I think we can and must do better. And I’m very hopeful we can do more to ensure electronic health records are accessible to patients, so that they are able to stay engaged in their care.”

“I want to close with some news I got recently from Washington state. A doctor at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle wrote to my office about how electronic health records have changed the way her office works. She said that while their EHR system is far from perfect—it’s alerting patients to come in for important preventive health care services, like cancer screenings. Since the summer, they’ve identified two breast cancers, two colon cancers, and one cervical carcinoma that otherwise may not have been detected. The doctor wrote, ‘there are five people in our clinic that would have gone undiagnosed, and possibly died, that now have caught the disease early and will hopefully see a long, happy life.’ I think this really reinforces the importance of the bipartisan work this committee is doing to strengthen our health information infrastructure, improve our health care system for patients like these—and their families.”

Full text of Senator Murray’s remarks:

Thank you.

 

“Dr. DeSalvo and Dr. Conway, thank you so much for taking the time to be here, and for everything you do to improve the health and wellbeing of families across the country.

 

“I also want to thank all of our colleagues for joining us, and for the bipartisan commitment you’ve shown to improving our nation’s health IT infrastructure.

 

“This is the sixth and final hearing in a series intended to explore ways that Congress can help improve health IT for patients and providers.

 

“Over the course of this conversation, we’ve heard striking examples that show how important electronic medical records are to providing patients with the care they need. 

 

“Whether it’s understanding a loved one’s full medical history, being able to look up your own health information online, or using a patient’s medical record to catch a dangerous interaction between her medicines, it is clear that a strong health IT infrastructure is a critical part of building a health care system that works for patients and families, and puts their needs first.

 

“Hospitals and providers have made great strides over the last few years when it comes to adopting health IT.

 

“Today, almost 83 percent of physicians use some form of electronic health records, compared with just 18 percent in 2001.

 

“The HITECH Act that passed in 2009 was a big part of that transformation. And I am very grateful for 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.

 

“But there is certainly more to do. And I’m pleased that over the last few months, this committee has explored ways to build on this progress in a bipartisan way.

 

“I’ve been focused on a few areas in particular.  I believe we need to prioritize standards—so that increasingly, systems developed by different vendors and used by different doctors, are able to speak to each other.

 

“In the same way that an email sent from a Gmail account makes sense when it’s opened in Yahoo—data in one EHR system should be structured so that it make sense in others.

 

“Other industries have been able to converge around common standards for exchanging digital information. It is important that health care organizations continue to adopt a standardized approach to sharing and using electronic health information.

 

“These standards would not only support important research—they would also cut down on the amount of time providers spend on administrative tasks—and allow them to focus resources on providing 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. Put simply, this is like making sure that someone with a Verizon plan can call someone with a Sprint plan.

 

“Many organizations are working hard on this already.  They are developing networks that allow information to be shared between patients’ different health care providers.

 

“One great example is the Everett Clinic in my home state of Washington. They’ve set up the infrastructure to share information with 121 different providers—helping to make sure a doctor has as much information as possible on hand about her patient’s health.

 

“This is an effort Senator Baldwin is especially interested in, and I really appreciate her work on it.

 

“We should also 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—or when an organization is, as we’ve discussed on the Committee, unnecessarily withholding data.

 

“I know that Senators Whitehouse and Cassidy have been focused on this last challenge—and on ensuring providers can speak up about technology that isn’t getting the job done.

 

“Security is another critical challenge. As electronic health records become more integral to our health care system, we need to prioritize developing technology and best practices that can stand up to the realities of today’s cybersecurity threats.

 

“Finally—one area that I think is absolutely critical is patient engagement. If you can easily look up and download your bank statement, you should be able to do the same with your medical history. But for far too many patients these experiences are very different.

 

“In our last hearing on EHRs, I told a story I’d heard about a woman looking up results of a pregnancy test in her medical records, and finding her hormone levels listed instead of a simple yes or no.  And we’ve heard many other stories about patients seeking their medical records and being given massive binders, unreadable PDFs, and stacks of CDs.

 

“In the 21st century, I think we can and must do better. And I’m very hopeful we can do more to ensure electronic health records are accessible to patients, so that they are able to stay engaged in their care. 

 

“I want to close with some news I got recently from Washington state.

 

“A doctor at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle wrote to my office about how electronic health records have changed the way her office works.

 

“She said that while their EHR system is far from perfect—it’s alerting patients to come in for important preventive health care services, like cancer screenings. Since the summer, they’ve identified two breast cancers, two colon cancers, and one cervical carcinoma that otherwise may not have been detected.

 

“The doctor wrote, ‘there are five people in our clinic that would have gone undiagnosed, and possibly died, that now have caught the disease early and will hopefully see a long, happy life.’

 

“I think this really reinforces the importance of the bipartisan work this committee is doing to strengthen our health information infrastructure, improve our health care system for patients like these—and their families.

 

“We’ve come a long way—we’ve got a lot more to do—and I am looking forward to our continued bipartisan efforts.

 

“Dr. DeSalvo and Dr. Conway, thank you again for being here and sharing your expertise with us—and now I’ll turn it back over to Chairman Alexander.”