Burwell unveils industry pledges on electronic health records

The Obama administration on Monday announced commitments from a range of healthcare companies aimed at improving the flow of electronic health records. 

The commitments are part of the administration’s efforts to modernize the healthcare system and make it easier for people to access and use their electronic health records, including with new mobile apps for patients. 

“We are working to unlock healthcare data and information so that providers are better informed and patients and families can access their healthcare information, making them empowered, active participants in their own care,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia BurwellSylvia Mathews BurwellHHS projects 13.8M ObamaCare signups for 2017 Republicans demand documents from insurers on ObamaCare 'bailout' Top health officials: Funding delay hurt Zika response MORE, who announced the private sector commitments at a speech at a Health IT conference in Las Vegas. 

The pledges come from health IT developers that provide 90 percent of electronic health records used by hospitals, as well as the country’s five largest healthcare provider systems.

First, these companies are pledging to make it easier for patients to access their electronic data, such as test results. 

Second is a commitment to make it easier to share electronic health records between different companies and systems and cut down on blockages due to business practices or misunderstandings of privacy law.

The final commitment also seeks to make sharing easier, by ensuring that systems use the same data “language” and can talk to each other. 

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. 

The 2009 stimulus law incentivized the adoption of electronic health records, and more than $30 billion in government incentive payments have been made since then. 

The effort has not been entirely without controversy, as Republicans and outside groups like the American Medical Association last fall urged the administration to delay the latest stage of regulations around electronic medical records until 2017, arguing that doctors and hospitals were having trouble complying. The administration, though, went ahead.