Senator blasts EHR program

Poorly designed EHRs could put precision medicine initiative at risk
By Bernie Monegain
09:58 AM
Sen. Lamar Alexander

Until physicians have EHRs that can talk with one another, the Precision Medicine Initiative introduced by President Barack Obama could be in jeopardy, Sen. Lamar Alexander said Tuesday.

"We've got to get these records to a place where the systems can talk to one another – that's called interoperability – and also where more doctors, particularly the smaller physicians' offices, want to adopt these systems, can afford the cost and can be confident that their investment will be of value," Alexander said.

"Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, has told us that a properly functioning records system is essential both to help assemble the genomes of one million individuals and for doctors to be able to use a patient’s genetic information when they write a prescription for individual patients," Alexander added.

It's not the first time Alexander, R-Tenn., and chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pension, or HELP, has criticized what he calls the "failed promise" of the $28 billion electronic health records program initiated by the government's Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT. 

He said something similar when he announced at a hearing April 29 that he and Ranking Member Patty Murray, D-Wash., would form a bipartisan, full health committee working group to identify ways to improve electronic health records.

[See also: Senate panel to look into EHR usability.]
"After $28 billion in taxpayer dollars spent subsidizing electronic health records, doctors don't like these electronic medical record systems and say they disrupt workflow, interrupt the doctor-patient relationship and haven't been worth the effort," Alexander said then.

The hearing Tuesday was the fourth one on the committee's innovation initiative to examine how to get safe drugs, devices and treatments from the discovery process through the regulatory process into the medicine cabinets and doctors' offices more quickly and cheaply.

The hearing focused on the promise of precision medicine, which is one part of the innovation effort.

To Alexander, EHRs and how they work or don't work is germane to precision medicine.

"The federal government has spent $28 billion to drive the adoption of these records systems, and the result is that doctors don’t like the systems, they say they disrupt workflow, interrupt the doctor-patient relationship, and haven’t been worth the effort," he said. "So, Senator Murray and I have begun a working group to identify the five or six things we can do to help make the failed promise of electronic health records something that physicians and providers look forward to instead of something they endure."