Health IT

Senate EHR legislation looms

Shutterstock image (by Bakhtiar Zein): medical health care set.

(Bakhtiar Zein / Shutterstock)

The federal government is still working out the kinks in a major initiative to get the nation's medical records fully digitized and shareable. But new rules -- and a new law -- are on the horizon.

During an Oct. 1 hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, lawmakers probed the $30 billion electronic health records (EHR) adoption and interoperability push.

Dr. Karen DeSalvo, national coordinator for health IT and acting assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services, touted the government's progress in encouraging EHR adoption.

"The proportion of U.S. physicians using EHRs increased from 18 percent to 78 percent between 2001 and 2013, and 94 percent of hospitals now report use of certified EHRs," she said while noting that "there is still much work to do" when it comes to enabling doctors and hospitals to effectively share that information.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) complained that the agency was slow in delivering on a final, long-promised interoperability roadmap. Public comments on the draft document closed in April.

"The information you heard five months ago may or may not be relevant today," Burr said.

DeSalvo promised a final roadmap in the coming weeks and noted that it will not constitute a formal set of regulations. Instead, it will offer best practices that can be continuously updated to keep it from impeding technological innovation.

On the legislative side, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) said he and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) planned to release proposed legislation on EHR interoperability on Oct. 6.

Cassidy has previously promised legislation that is similar to existing House language.

About the Author

Zach Noble is a former FCW staff writer.

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