Sad Illustration of Government’s Understanding of EHR

Posted on January 17, 2012 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

I recently saw a tweet to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCLS) list of “Top 12 Legislative Issues of 2012.” It’s an interesting look into issues that state legislatures will be dealing with in 2012. Plus, it makes an interesting observation at the outset that state budgets have been cut so much in past years that lawmakers won’t have to focus all of their initial energy on budget shortfalls.

Most of the list is not surprising with managing the state budget and jobs are at the top of the list. However, there are a couple healthcare and health IT related sections in their list of top government issues as well.

One of the issues is Medicaid: Efficiencies and quality. It talks about how the tough economy is making the Medicaid budgets in states a real challenge and many are looking for cost containing actions. Plus, it points to ACO type reimbursement based on patients’ health outcomes, medical homes and streamlining services. The ACO part was quite interesting to me. I wonder how much of an effect lack of Medicaid budget will push forward a new model of healthcare.

The disturbing part of the report comes in the “Health: Reform in the states, health care exchanges, technology and benefits. Here’s the section on health IT, the EHR incentive money and HIEs.

HEALTH INFORMATION EXCHANGE: One focus for state legislatures in 2012 will be how to move health care providers, especially those participating in the Medicaid program, toward the adoption of certified electronic health records (EHRs). Essentially, instead of having a different health record at each doctor or provider you visit, an EHR will serve as one file that all of your doctors can see. EHRs, once fully implemented, are expected to provide doctors and health professionals with easier access to patient histories and data, resulting in cost-savings and better health outcomes by removing costly errors and duplications in services.

I love how this basically assumes that by having widespread adoption of EHR software, that we’ll then have one patient record that each doctor you visit can see instead of having a different health record at every doctor. Of course, those of us in the EHR world know that this is a far cry from the reality of EHR software today. In most cases you can’t even share a patient record with someone using the same EHR software as you let alone sharing a patient record with a doctor who is using a different EHR.

The sad part is that whoever wrote these legislative issues must have realized that there was some issue with EHR software exchanging information, because then they wrote the following about the state HIE initiatives.

In addition, states are responsible for building and implementing health information exchanges (HIEs) where those EHRs can be accessed by health care providers. HIEs function like an online file cabinet where your medical record is securely stored, and can be accessed by any doctor or health care professional you visit. By mid-year 2012, every state should have Medicaid EHR Incentive programs in place and will be working toward building an HIE by late 2014 or early 2015 as required by deadlines attached to federal cooperative agreements.

So, wait. If EHR software has created one file where any doctor can access our patient record, then why do we need “an online file cabinet” for our medical records? We know the answer is that we need the online filing cabinet because EHR software isn’t connected and there isn’t one patient record. Each doctor maintains their own patient record and that’s not going to change any time soon.

The above quote also implies that every state is working towards an HIE program per the federal program. I must admit that I haven’t gone through every state, but is every state working on an HIE? I certainly know there are a lot of states working on some sort of HIE project, but I didn’t think that every state had funding for HIE. I guess maybe the question is whether there is any state that doesn’t have some sort of HIE program in the works.

Reading issues described like this, you can understand how government passes legislation with limited understanding. Based on this resource, EHR software creates one patient record. Wouldn’t that be nice if it were the case?