Fix Interoperability Problems Before Implementing Meaningful Use, AAFP Tells ONC

Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015

Leslie Champlin
Senior Public Relations Strategist
American Academy of Family Physicians
(800) 274-2237, Ext. 5224

LEAWOOD, Kan. — The federal government should solve the lack of communication and interoperability among health information technology systems before penalizing physicians for not meeting Meaningful Use Stage 2 requirements.

That was the message from the American Academy of Family Physicians in a letter to Karen DeSalvo, MD, national coordinator for health information technology. In the letter, the AAFP called on the ONC to delay implementing meaningful use regulations until electronic health records are truly interoperable. To date, progress in that effort has been a “dismal failure,” wrote AAFP Board Chair Robert Wergin, MD.

Current health IT infrastructure and products “are not efficient or effective” and make interoperability more of a challenge, Wergin wrote. Although ONC has published a roadmap for health IT interoperability, “we need more than a roadmap; we need action. …While we appreciate this national interoperability roadmap and its demonstration of ONC’s responsiveness to the health care community, we do not sense the necessary level of urgency to achieve this important goal and call on ONC to further accelerate this work.”

Implementing meaningful use without first achieving system-wide interoperability practically dooms physicians’ efforts to comply with payment regulations under the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act. Family physicians continue to hand-type vital patient information from colleagues and hospitals into their computers -- “doing the work health IT should be automating” -- taking time away from patient care. Adding insult to injury, current regulations put the entire burden for achieving interoperability on physicians, without expecting vendors to improve inter-system communication and holding them accountable.

“The current bloated, semantically poor documents are not able to be interpreted by their certified EHR technology,” Wergin wrote. “Instead, physicians must view the documents on the screen, just as they would a fax, to find the important information. Then they must re-key that information into their EHR if they want to incorporate some of the summary information into the patient’s record.

“Our members have become the interoperable components of the health care system today rather than the technology. That is unacceptable given the power of today’s information technology, and we believe this is the fault of the vendors and their lack of accountability while reaping huge profits from the HITECH act. Vendors, not providers, must be held fiscally accountable for not yet achieving an appropriate level of interoperability.”

Although “the hard work is ahead,” Wergin said. “The AAFP is dedicated to continue our work to achieve interoperability, which is fundamental to continuity of care, care coordination and the achievement of effective health IT solutions.”

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Founded in 1947, the American Academy of Family Physicians represents 136,700 physicians and medical students nationwide, and it is the only medical society devoted solely to primary care.

Family physicians conduct approximately one in five of the total medical office visits in the United States per year – more than any other specialty. Family physicians provide comprehensive, evidence-based, and cost-effective care dedicated to improving the health of patients, families and communities. Family medicine’s cornerstone is an ongoing and personal patient-physician relationship where the family physician serves as the hub of each patient’s integrated care team. More Americans depend on family physicians than on any other medical specialty.

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