Digital Medical Record Sharing Stifled by Tech Rivalries

Digital Medical Record Sharing Stifled by Tech Rivalries


The federal government under the Obama Administration has poured close to $30 billion into health information technology and told doctors and hospitals to use electronic medical records or face financial penalties.

But some tech companies, hospitals and laboratories are intentionally blocking the electronic exchange of health information because they fear that they will lose business if they share information on patients with competing providers, administration officials said. In addition, officials said, some sellers of health information technology try to “lock in” customers by making it difficult for them to switch to competing vendors.

Examples in a report to Congress include:

• A doctor may have to pay exorbitant fees to transfer information on patients from the medical record system of one vendor to that of another.

• Doctors obtain laboratory services and health records technology from one company, which will not let them connect to a competing laboratory, even though the connection is technically feasible and the doctors are willing to pay for it.

The Obama administration has stated that some hospitals and technology companies appeared to be using electronic health records as part of a business strategy to “enhance their market dominance.” But it is often difficult to discover the details of such arrangements because some information technology companies “prohibit customers from reporting or even discussing” terms of their contracts.

Congress took a first step to address the problem in H.R 2, (Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015) which permanently repealed the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula for reimbursing healthcare providers.. Included in the bill was a provision that states that doctors and hospitals must not deliberately block the sharing of information if they receive federal bonus payments for using electronic health records.

Another bill recently approved by a House committee defines “information blocking” as a federal offense. Doctors, hospitals and technology vendors could be punished with civil fines of up to $10,000 for each violation.