Interoperability will cut down on administrative costs, experts say at Senate panel

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions heard testimonies from lawmakers and other witnesses about the need for improved interoperability among EHR systems, MeriTalk reports.

At the July 31 hearing, the witnesses said improvements in interoperability will enhance quality of care, as well as save administrative time and money — feats the EHR originally set out to accomplish.

"Since 2011, the federal government has spent $38 billion requiring doctors and hospitals to install EHR systems through the meaningful use program in Medicare and Medicaid. Unfortunately, EHR systems have ended up being something physicians too often dread, rather than a tool that's useful," committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said, according to MeriTalk.

David Cutler, PhD, an economics professor at Cambridge, Mass.-based Harvard College, told the panel that better EHR interoperability would streamline the billing process, thereby reducing the time employees dedicate to the task. He thinks interoperability improvements could be achieved in the public sector through stronger regulations and standards, and in the private sector through intermediaries who process information between disparate EHR systems.

"Technologically, there is no reason why EMR systems cannot interface with billing systems or automatically submit information for quality assessment," he said. "Most of the federal effort devoted to interoperability has focused on increasing access to clinical information by patients and providers. However, much less attention has been devoted to the links between medical records systems and billing systems."

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