21st Century Cures Act Sparks Debate Among Health IT Professionals

Legislation that could have a significant impact on electronic health records (EHRs), interoperability, and other health IT—known as the 21st Century Cures Act, is making its way through the Congressional committee process. The House Energy and Commerce Committee voted unanimously for the bill to proceed on May 21, in a vote of 51-0, Healthcare Informatics reported.

The centerpiece of the legislation pertains to medical device and new drug innovations, but also contains provisions relevant to health IT. The bill would penalize EHR vendors that are not in compliance with interoperability criteria set by the Health IT Standards Committee and a charter healthcare development standards organization, according to Healthcare Informatics. And although the bill’s sponsors tout its efforts to enable interoperability, groups such as the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) are upset that the bill doesn’t tackle the issue of a patient identifier.

“Interoperability is a complex, multifaceted problem that will only improve when we have a standardized approach for collecting and sharing data, but that can only occur once a patient has been positively identified. Despite the Energy & Commerce Committee’s efforts to evaluate and enhance health information exchange,” said CHIME in a statement, when the contents of the bill were made publicly available.

The 21st Century Cures Act also includes language that would eliminate the Health IT Standards Committee (HITSC) by 2018.

John Halamka, M.D., vice chair of the HITSC and CIO of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, raised several concerns about the legislation in a blog post.

“It does not make sense to officially sanction a ‘charter organization’ and seed it with $10 million, creating yet another player in an already crowded field of groups working on interoperability,” Halamka wrote. “I agree that coordinating the standards development organizations makes a lot of sense—why not just direct ONC to create a permanent Task Force that reports to the HIT Standards Committee, and let ONC support it out of existing resources?”

For the legislation to move forward, it would need to pass a vote by the full House before moving on to the Senate.

Mary Butler is the associate editor at The Journal of AHIMA.

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