Senate Panel to Look into EHR Usability


The promise of electronic health records (EHRs) is a well documented healthcare subject. Unfortunately, transitioning to a paperless state of affairs has proved more complicated and slower paced than most had expected. Despite the potential for the first true revolution in health record and data management, EHR usage continues to create more problems than solutions.

Doctors, nurses, and patients aren’t the only ones frustrated by what many see as a black eye on the healthcare industry. Senators are apparently frustrated as well, and two of them have decided to get involved directly. Lamar Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee, and Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington State, recently announced that they would form a full health committee working group to identify ways to improve EHR usability.

In a news statement, Alexander pointed out that despite the $28 billion of federal money that has been invested in EHR technologies, doctors remain averse to them, and in many cases they disrupt the doctor-patient relationship. If he wanted to, he could have pointed out a number of other common gripes.

Alexander went on to identify the core goal of the working group as the development of five or six actionable ideas that could be used to meaningfully impact EHR usability. He went on to identify more granulated goals including improving inter-operability, developing better patient portals, enhancing privacy and data security, and leveraging the potential of EHRs to actually improve outcomes.

The group will hold regular meeting involving health professionals, health information technology developers, relevant government agencies, and anyone else with useful expertise. Participation is open to all members of the Senate Health Committee.

Time will tell what kind of effect this work group has. Their goals are worthwhile, and certainly in need of attention. But at the same time, there are dozens of other groups working to accomplish the same goals, often with little coordination and even less success. More cynical observers might be inclined to see the establishment of this work group as having good intentions, but ultimately doomed to fail.

What is clear is that for EHRs to reach maturity and for pressing problems to finally be resolved, it will take an entity with the scope and resources of the federal government to help corral efforts. One of the biggest obstacles to EHR usability historically, has been the sheer size of the healthcare industry and the amount of data involved. Congress is in a unique position to provide resources, mandates, and coordination. Stay up-to-date with all the issues related to EHR usability by following along with MedPartners.


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