Physicians well know the rapid advance of information technology in medicine over the last decade. Pushed by federal and state regulations and requirements, the adoption of electronic medical records has been swift. Today, some 90 percent of physicians in Massachusetts use some form of electronic medical records.
While health information technology (HIT) arrived with great promise and adoption has been quick, widespread acceptance has lagged, and EHRs remain a major concern among physicians of all specialties. Among the most contentious issues: interoperability, clinical workflow efficiency, and the myriad demands of reporting patient data as required by Meaningful Use and the Physician Quality Reporting System, among others.
Some physicians have embraced HIT; they see it as a way to reduce medical errors, streamline workloads, and offer a path to improved outcomes. Others view it as an impediment to the physician-patient relationship, a huge expense, a tool that consumes too much time, and a source of immense frustration. Some have even stopped practicing medicine because they found the rules and regulations and operations too onerous.
Health information technology has been a major focus of the Massachusetts Medical Society since the establishment of the MMS Committee on Information Technology (CIT) some 20 years ago. The Committee’s Guide to Health Information Technology has provided useful information and direction for physicians as we struggle through the obstacle courses of HIT and EHRs.
The last year has seen a renewed effort by physicians nationally and locally, to share our concerns about the impact of HIT on physician practices and how we deliver patient care.
In September, MMS hosted an AMA Break the Red Tape Town Hall, to voice concerns about Meaningful Use. More than 100 physicians attended, and the collective message was clear: EHRs are cumbersome, time-consuming, and hurting productivity.
MMS officials have also met with CMS Acting Administrator Andrew Slavitt on multiple occasions, including a visit last fall, at our suggestion, to Massachusetts and the office of a local family physician. The visit provided Mr. Slavitt with a first-hand, real-world look at the issues affecting physicians as they work with electronic health records and wrestle with interoperability. The encounter influenced his thinking about Meaningful Use; Mr. Slavitt has made it clear that EHRs should be patient-centered, physician-focused, and simple.
Our most recent effort was the adoption of a new set of principles governing health information technology. Proposed by the CIT, the principles were adopted unanimously by the House of Delegates at our May annual meeting.
The essence of the new policy is contained in seven statements. It states that information technology available to physicians should accomplish the following:
- support the physician’s obligation to put the interests of the patient first;
- support the patient’s autonomy by providing access to that individual’s data;
- be safe, effective, and efficient;
- have no institutional or administrative barriers between physicians and their patients’ health data;
- promote the elimination of health care disparities;
- support the integrity and autonomy of physicians; and
- give physicians direct control over choice and management of the information technology used in their practices.
MMS members may read the complete report of the CIT on these new principles here.
Guided by these principles, MMS will continue to work on health information technology issues and how these tools can improve the practice of medicine – and that means first and foremost a focus on patient care. HIT does indeed hold promise, but its priority should not be on data collection, but on how it can raise the level of patient care – a goal shared by each of us as physicians.
James Gessner, M.D. is the President of the Massachusetts Medical Society.