Senators Question Ability of EHRs To Support Personalized Medicine

May 6, 2015 in News

On Tuesday, National Coordinator for Health IT Karen DeSalvo told senators that health IT is “foundational” to President Obama’s Precision Medicine initiative and discussed ways to improve data sharing, Health Data Management reports (Slabodkin, Health Data Management, 5/6).

In February, President Obama in his fiscal year 2016 budget proposal asked Congress for $215 million in funding for a personalized medicine initiative that centers around the creation of a massive database containing the genetic data of at least one million volunteer participants (iHealthBeat, 3/31).

Hearing Details

During a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing, DeSalvo said that the “comprehensive data picture” formed by analytics, electronic health records, mobile health device information and other data “is necessary to identify the right prevention and treatment that is not only the most effective, but also most desired by the patient” (Health Data Management, 5/6).

Similarly, NIH Director Francis Collins noted that well-functioning EHR systems would enable physicians to create targeted treatment plans by using a patient’s genetic information.

However, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said that the current state of EHRs frustrate providers and could inhibit such research.

Alexander said, “We’ve got to get to a place where the systems can talk to one another … and also where more doctors, particularly the smaller physicians’ offices, want to adopt these systems, can afford the cost and can be confident that their investment will be of value” (Gold et al., “Morning eHealth,” Politico, 5/6).

According to Health Data Management, DeSalvo agreed, noting that “we need to go beyond the pockets of data exchange and achieve true interoperability.” She added that standards need to be established “for the most fundamental clinical information that are shared by all.” In addition, she noted that standards will need to be created for new data to support precision medicine, including:

  • Environmental data;
  • Genomic data; and
  • Patient-generated data (Health Data Management, 5/6).

Concerns Raised Over DOD EHR Contract

During the hearing, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) also raised concerns about the Department of Defense’s effort to award an $11 billion EHR contract and questioned whether the initiative might overlap with similar efforts by HHS (Gustin, CQ HealthBeat News, 5/5).

In addition, Cassidy asked DeSalvo whether the system would be able to share and integrate data with the Department of Veterans Affairs and community health systems.

Cassidy said, “My fear is that the very vendors who are blocking data [sharing] are the ones bidding” on the DOD’s EHR contract. He asked whether the “final $11 billion project [would] be something” other health systems could access, “or will there be a problem with interoperability?”

DeSalvo responded that EHR vendors were starting to drop data exchange fees. She added that the contract likely would result in a system that fosters interoperability, noting that DOD officials had been “embedded” within ONC to learn about the process (“Morning eHealth,” Politico, 5/6).

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