Sens. Carper and Voinovich: Bill Expands Use of Electronic Health Records

Legislation Promotes New Technology Through Federal Healthcare Plans

U.S. Senators Tom Carper (D-Del.) and George Voinovich (R-Ohio) today introduced legislation to jump start use of electronic personal health records within the health care industry in an effort to improve health care services and reduce medical errors.

The Federal Employees Electronic Personal Health Records Act of 2007 requires all 150-plus insurance carriers that contract with the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) to make electronic health records available to all its federal participants. The legislation is designed to help health care providers, consumers and insurance companies become accustomed to using electronic personal health records which have been proven to save time and money and reduce unnecessary errors.

Backed by technology and healthcare groups, the Carper-Voinovich legislation would give the eight million FEHBP enrollees access to their electronic health records to keep track of vital medial information including family history and prescription medications.

"Electronic personal health records would provide federal employees with a tool to better access and control their own health information, keeping track of such medical information as medications, allergies and immunization records," Sen. Carper said. "Health care providers will have the most up-to-date and accurate health information when making clinical decisions for their patients so efficiency and safety improve by eliminating costs for unwarranted tests, procedures or conflicting medications."

"Access to quality health care is one of the greatest domestic challenges facing our nation," Sen. Voinovich said. "More transparency in the health care industry, including medical records transparency, will allow us to improve the quality of care and more wisely spend our health care dollars. This legislation will improve the health care profession and help ensure that patients get the best and most timely care possible. It is about working harder and smarter while doing more with less."

Beneficiaries would also have the ability to share their records with their health care providers, ensuring that everyone involved in a patient’s care has the most up-to-date and accurate health information when making clinical decisions. In an emergency, enrollees would be able to grant others access to their electronic health records as well.

Unfortunately, while some health care providers are adopting new health information technology, many others are reluctant to do so because of high costs and a lack of uniformity among services.

"The fact is, health care providers who have started using health information technology – including the Veterans Administration – have seen better, more efficient patient care," Sen. Carper said. "Sen. Voinovich and I agree that it is time to expand the use of electronic personal health records."

The bill helps ensure the privacy and security of an enrollee’s electronic personal health record by: • Requiring enrollees to authenticate their identities when accessing their electronic personal health record; • Ensuring enrollees can share sections of their electronic personal health record with healthcare providers without exposing their entire health history; • Creating an audit trail that lists the identity of every individual who accesses an electronic personal health record; and • Allowing enrollees to opt-out of the initiative by choosing not to set-up an electronic personal health record. The Carper-Voinovich bill is backed by many technology and healthcare groups including the American Health Information Association (AHIMA), and by companies such as IBM.