American Society of Plastic Surgeons
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FEDERAL | Senate Focuses on Medical Innovation and Health IT

On February 9, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held the first in a series of three meetings dedicated to marking up and advancing a suite of legislation which is aimed at improving biomedical innovation in the United States. These hearings are part of the Senate Innovations for Healthier Americans initiative, which is a companion effort to the House's 21st Century Cures initiative that passed in 2015. During the markup, the Committee unanimously passed the Improving Health Technology Act (S.2511). Developed by the Committee's Health Information Technology (HIT) working group and supported by ASPS, the measure would make substantial changes to the American HIT landscape by reducing the burden on physicians who participate in and comply with federal health IT programs; increasing vendor accountability; fostering systemic interoperability; and encouraging the development of new HIT products that work better for specialty physicians.

In its effort to improve electronic health record (EHR) products, the bill focuses on two areas of particular importance to plastic surgeons. First, it contains language directing the federal government to identify specific medical specialties which lack EHR systems compatible to their clinical practice. Second, it creates new, objective assessments of the relative quality of EHRs and makes those assessments more clear to end-users through the establishment of an unbiased rating system to help providers choose products. This rating system feeds into a revamped EHR certification process that now requires vendors to demonstrate they meet certain standards to maintain their certification and avoid fines. Crucially, to reduce the negative impact on providers when their EHR products are decertified, the legislation creates a provider hardship exemption from federal payment penalties.

The measure also takes several steps to foster interoperability across health IT systems and creates legitimate negative consequences for the practice of "information blocking," which is the concerted interference with the appropriate flow of information between health IT systems. For example, the bill creates a public-private initiative that will focus on developing a strategy to reach broad interoperability goals. Additionally, it ties continued certification of an EHR system to the product developer's ability to demonstrate its compatibility with other EHRs. Lastly, the Improving Health Technology Act also contains provisions to help improve the underlying quality and integration of exchanged information by developing an initial set of common data elements, such as standard formatting for entering a patient's date of birth.