Pledges to Improve Electronic Health Records

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Burwell announced that the Obama administration has received commitments from various healthcare companies to help improve the flow of electronic health records (EHRs). Physicians and healthcare organizations around the country have longed for EHR improvements, particularly regarding interoperability. The partnerships will now allow for easier access for both patients and physicians. Pledges came in from health IT developers that provide 90 percent of EHRs used by hospitals, as well as the five largest healthcare provider systems. The plan has three components: 1) companies pledge to make it easier for patients to access electronic data; 2) data sharing will be easier and will reduce bureaucratic impediments; and 3) systems will use the same “language” and be able to talk to each other. This will lead to both better care and more efficient services.

Officials say that the improved movement of electronic health records can lead to better care, and is an underpinning of larger efforts to transform the healthcare system so payments are made for quality care, not just the number of services that are provided.

One example is that if someone breaks an arm on vacation, the doctor in the hospital there can have easy access to the person’s medical history electronically, and then easily transmit what happened back to the usual doctor.

President Obama also spoke of electronic medical records last week in touting his “precision medicine” initiative to make treatments increasingly individualized.

“The key to all this is for us to be able to build up databases,” Obama said. “And because all of us potentially could have electronic medical records that voluntarily — with strong privacy protections — we pool together so that researchers, practitioners, scientists can share, we may be able to accelerate the process of discovering cures in ways that we’ve never seen before.”

HHS plans to check back in the fall to see how well the companies have lived up to their pledges.