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Doctors Urge New Focus on Interoperability for Electronic Records

By Kerry Young, CQ HealthBeat Associate Editor

October 15, 2014 -- The American Medical Association (AMA) and other doctors' groups recently asked the federal government to overhaul rules on electronic health records, seeking more of an emphasis on making systems talk to each other.

Medical practices and hospitals are too often locked in an outdated approach under current federal rules, leaving potentially valuable and even critical data siloed in systems that don't communicate with each other, information technology and health groups have argued. In the letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Burwell, the medical groups said current rules are forcing their members to focus more on meeting federal standards than finding systems that would help them practice medicine.

"Removing a heavy handed set of certification mandates and allowing instead for a flexible and scalable standard ... will promote the delivery of more innovative and usable solutions," the groups wrote. "This in turn will allow data to move more freely across the health care system, reducing data lock-in and promoting more usable systems."

In addition to the AMA, the letter was signed by the American Academy of Family Physicians and the National Rural Health Association. The letter was released by the group as the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) convened the first joint meeting of the Health Information Technology Policy and Standards Committees, an effort aimed at making electronic health systems better communicate.

"We have heard loudly and clearly that interoperability is a national priority, and that there is value in this effort spearheaded by ONC as the federal government's coordinator of health IT policy," said Karen DeSalvo, the national coordinator for health information technology, in a blog post last week. "It is also apparent that there is enthusiasm, capability and a willingness to cooperate and collaborate in ways not previously seen."

DeSalvo's comments were welcomed by the Health IT Now Coalition, a broad alliance of groups that includes among its members Oracle Corp., Aetna Inc., Boeing Co. and medical groups such as the American Health Care Association. In a statement, Joel White, the executive director of the Health IT Now Coalition, asked that the relevant committees at the Department of Health and Human Services, work to move away from the current approach on electronic health records.

"We are thrilled that DeSalvo has issued a call to action that immediately challenges the status quo to think beyond pecuniary interests to transforming health care," White said. "The problems that exist in interoperability are largely understood. The dialogue should now transition to how we best achieve interoperability, and it should be done as quickly as possible."

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