Conference Coverage

HHS Secretary Price promises reduced health IT burden for physicians



– Reducing IT burden for doctors and fostering interoperability are two top tech priorities for Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, MD.

“We simply have to do a better job of reducing the burden of health IT on physicians and all health care providers,” Dr. Price said April 27 at Health Datapalooza, an annual conference on health data transparency. “The promise of big data and health information technology is so great and absolutely remarkable but we must not, we cannot continue to get this wrong.”

Dr. Tom Price, secretary of Health and Human Services, speaks from a podium at a health care information technology meeting in Washington. Gregory Twachtman/Frontline Medical News

EHR requirements are causing some physicians to retire too early, Dr. Tom Price said at Health Datapolooza.

Dr. Price said that the burden being placed on physicians is causing many to leave practice way too early. He noted that his grandfather retired from practice at age 94 and his father retired in his early 80s.

“Now we are seeing physicians leaving the practice of medicine when they are 60 or 55,” he said. “Many of my colleagues, my personal friends who have been practicing, right now they are looking for the exit doors. They are trying to figure out how to get out of practicing medicine and I think it is incredibly important for us as a society to step back and ask, why?”

A significant factor is the shift to electronic health records, which has caused doctors to spend much more time looking at screens and feeling more like data entry clerks than health care providers, he said.

“I know that we have lost more than one physician to retirement because of the kinds of burdens that have been placed on a lot of them and that simply ought to be unacceptable to us,” he said. “You think of the intellectual capital that has been lost by this nation because of the kinds of burdens that clinicians have seen.”

That said, “data is absolutely crucial,” Dr. Price said. “Don’t misunderstand me. It is absolutely critical that we have all the data that we can and that we use it in an evidence-based manner so that we can provide better care and better quality of care to patients.”

He challenged the health IT professionals at the meeting to make their products more user friendly.

“We will work on reducing the burdens at the federal level, but we also need clinicians and IT folks on the ground to help make certain that technology implementation is done in a way that it enhances usability and increases efficiency,” Dr. Price said.

He also called for true interoperability, a common goal that has persisted since electronic health records were mandated under the HITECH Act but remains an elusive target.

“This has always been the goal and it just seems so simple,” he said. “Somehow something has happened between the idea of interoperability and now that has made it so much more challenging.”

He placed that fault on current federal regulation around interoperability and pledged to create an environment that reduces regulatory roadblocks and allows the technology sector to innovate and foster the free flow of data.

“From my perspective it seems that what we ought to be doing is deciding the rules of the road,” Dr. Price said. “We are going to drive on the right side. We are going to stop at the red light. This is the language we are going to do. This is what a triangular sign looks like, as opposed to stipulating every single dot... all the way down the line.”

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