On February 29, the Obama administration announced that technology companies, hospital systems and doctors' groups have agreed to take steps to make electronic health records easier for consumers to access and use.
While most care facilities have adopted digital practices, the systems used are often insular and do not transmit information to each other, limiting their usefulness to patient. The latest initiative is meant to speed removal of technological bottlenecks. It is unclear how immediately impactful the initiative will be, as President Obama leaves office in less than a year.
To date, $27 billion in government subsidies have been distributed to encourage the adoption of electronic medical records by hospitals and doctors’ offices. But the results so far have fallen short of the data-driven transformation that proponents envisioned. With new personal health applications for mobile devices hitting the market, there is a renewed push to clear obstacles rooted in different technologies and clashing competitive priorities among vendors and health care providers.
The agreement announced by the Obama administration covers 16 health care technology companies, which all-together represent approximately 90% of hospital electronic records used nationally. But, the announcement also lacked a hard timetable.
The 16 companies have pledged to:
1. Improve consumer access. Theoretically, patients would be able to easily access their records from one provider and transfer them to another. That second provider would be able to seamlessly import the earlier records into its system.
2. Stop blocking health information sharing. A 2015 ONC report found that some health care organizations were blocking the sharing of information outside their group.
3. Put standards for secure efficient digital communications into effect, which would allow different systems to more easily transmit information with each other.
Joining the technology companies are major hospital systems such as Hospital Corporation of America and Tenet Healthcare, as well as insurers like Kaiser Permanente. The American Medical Association, the American Society of Clinical Oncology and other medical groups are also participating.
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