Should EMR Vendors Care If Patients Get Their Records?

Posted on August 11, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Not long ago, Epic CEO Judy Faulkner and former Vice President Joe Biden reportedly butted heads over whether patients need and can understand their full medical records. The alleged conversation took place at a private meeting for Cancer Moonshot, a program with which Biden has been associated since his son died of cancer.

According to a piece in Becker’s Health IT & CIO Review, Faulkner asked Biden why patients actually needed their full medical records. “Why do you want your medical records? They’re a thousand pages of which you understand 10,” she is said to have told Biden.

Epic responded to the widely-reported conversation with a statement arguing that Faulkner had been quoted out of context, and that the vendor supported patients’ rights to having their entire record. Given that Becker’s had the story third-hand (it drew on a Politico column which itself was based on the remarks of someone who had been present at the meeting) I have little difficulty believing that something was lost in translation.

Still, I am left wondering whether this piece had touched on something important nonetheless. It raises the question of whether EMR vendor CEOs have the attitude towards patient medical record access Faulkner is portrayed as having.

Yes, I suspect virtually every EMR vendor CEO agrees in principle that patients are entitled to access their complete records. Of course, the law recognizes this right as well. However, do they, personally, feel strongly about providing such access? Is making patient access to records easy a priority for them? My guess is “no” and “no.”

The truth is, EMR vendors — like every other business — deliver what their customers want. Their customers, providers, may talk a good game when it comes to patient record access, but only a few seem to have made improving access a central part of their culture. In my experience, at least, most do what medical records laws require and little else. It’s hard to imagine that vendors spend any energy trying to change customers’ records practices for the better.

Besides, both vendors and providers are used to thinking about medical record data as a proprietary asset. Even if they see the necessity of sharing this information, it probably rubs at least some the wrong way to ladle it out at minimal cost to patients.

Given all this background, it’s easy to understand why health IT editors jumped on the story. While she may have been misrepresented this time, it’s not hard to imagine the famously blunt Faulkner confronting Biden, especially if she thought he didn’t have a leg to stand on.

Even if she never spoke the words in question, or her comments were taken out of context, I have the feeling that at least some of her peers would’ve spoken them unashamedly, and if so, people need to call them out. If we’re going to achieve the ambitious goals we’ve set for value-based care, every player needs to be on board with empowering patients.