Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation Hears HIT Testimony

With a focus on whether “meaningful use is delivering meaningful results,” the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation conducted a hearing to examine progress on the development and implementation of interoperable technical standards and conformance testing procedures for health information technology (HIT). The subcommittee heard the testimony of Dr. Farzad Mostashari, National Coordinator for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) and Dr. Charles H. Romine, Director, Information Technology Laboratory of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in promoting interoperability through the development of technical standards for HIT, and examined the implementation of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act. Witnesses agreed that there has been progress on electronic health record adoption, but said that significant progress is needed to ensure communication between different HIT systems.

Subcommittee Chairman Ben Quayle (R-Az) noted that application of HIT could lower health care costs by reducing unnecessary tests and procedures as well as reduce medical errors and improve public health outcomes by aiding in clinical decision making, but raised concerns about the lack of progress made towards greater interoperability of health IT systems.

Legislative Background

In February 2009, President Obama signed into law legislation to encourage the adoption of electronic health records (EHRs), known as the HITECH Act, enacted as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) (P.L. 111-5). The HITECH Act allocates approximately $20 billion to encourage the health care industry to adopt information technology. The funds are aimed at improving the quality, efficiency, and safety of the nation’s health and are available in the form of bonus payments to qualifying physicians and hospitals. To receive the incentive, physicians and hospitals must adopt technology; which means they must move beyond simply purchasing and implementing an electronic health record and must prove that they have put the system to “meaningful use” in their practices. Those who fail to comply within the projected timeframes face penalties in the form of reduced Medicare payments.

Testimony

Dr. Romine said that “The creation of an integrated healthcare information infrastructure depends on all parties involved in the healthcare enterprise—consumers, healthcare professionals, researchers, and insurers—and on having systems, tools, and information that are complete, correct, secure and interoperable.” To achieve this would require “…the availability of healthcare information standards that are complete, implementable, testable, and that contribute to interoperability.”

Marc Probst, Chief Information Officer and Vice President, Information Systems, Intermountain Healthcare, noted that “What may seem like small steps required by Meaningful Use, are actually big efforts for provider organizations and if not done correctly will not only fail to achieve greater efficiencies for healthcare, but could ultimately create less secure and less safe healthcare delivery.”