An important part of effective patient care is communication between medical providers. In the age of electronic medical records and with the passage of the HITECH Act, sharing information is easier than ever. Or is it?

In the process of caring for their patients, physicians may need to consult specialists or refer their patients to other colleagues. In this case, it’s almost imperative to be able to exchange patient medical histories, current prescriptions, lab results, and much more using EHR software so that all providers are well informed of the patient’s condition. Limiting access to medical documents only hinders patient care. Not only is it inconvenient, it also could interfere with patients receiving proper treatment.

Due to the high volume of EHR vendors and products, the systems often aren’t interoperable with each other, making it very difficult to electronically exchange patient data with other physicians. Vendors are even asking for sizeable fees to enable the sharing of patient data among their customers. Providers who have the same systems are still having difficulty sharing information because of these excessive amounts vendors are charging.

If this continues, the incentives providers are receiving for meaningful use attestation will end up in the pockets of the vendors. The federal government has the choice to either pay the fees or implement regulations enforcing free data exchange between providers. Niam Yaraghi at Brookings seems to think it’s best for the government to stand back. According to him, if providers are no longer receiving meaningful use incentives, they won’t have the extra funds to pay vendors for exchanging data.

According to a February 2015 Politico report, U.S. Congressman and physician Michael Burgess (R-Texas), who is the leader of the House Energy and Commerce trade subcommittee, will be drawing up a bill to enforce data sharing. He’s quoted saying, “it’s unfair that practitioners have to spend money on connections they thought were part of the EHR when they bought it.”

The report goes on to say doctors are forced to pay $5,000 to $50,000 each to communicate information with other physicians and even clinical laboratories. At the end of January, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT released a 10-year roadmap for EHR interoperability. An important goal of the ONC plan is to facilitate the use of clinical data across providers.

As the situation continues to evolve, it’s clear that the vendors have different priorities than the providers. From the business perspective, it’s natural to reach for the money. From a Health IT perspective, interoperability is one of the main objectives of EHR use. The vendors are financially incentivized; much like providers are with meaningful use. However, it comes down to doing what’s best for healthcare overall.

Author: Apoorva Anupindi

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