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HHS Secretary: Doctors Should Deal With Patients, Not Computers

HHS Secretary Tom Price

HHS Secretary Tom Price // J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price says improving health information technology is a key priority for the department.

The former Georgia representative spoke at HHS’ annual Health Datapalooza event last week, where he sketched out plans to help physicians do their jobs better by helping improve the technological backbone of hospitals, including electronic medical records.

The various groups providing health care services to patients—clinics, hospitals, labs, pharmacies and others—can’t always seamlessly exchange patient health records, especially if their electronic medical records systems aren’t compatible, he explained.

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HHS and specifically its Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT’s responsibility is “deciding what the rules of the road are,” Price said. Instead of providing a detailed set of requirements for health IT systems, the department can encourage the private sector to create interoperable products by providing a regulatory framework at the “60,000-foot level, at the 30,000-foot level.”

Price said he was pleased to see ONC had created an “Interoperability Pledge” several health IT companies signed, committing them to using common standards so consumers can easily track their records.

“We simply have to do a better job of reducing the burden of health IT on physicians and all healthcare providers,” he said, instead of searching for a “one size fits all, inflexible system.”

Sometimes, clinicians struggle to adopt complex technology, forcing doctors and nurses to “spend that time tapping on screens and keyboards rather than helping patients,” Price said.

“We need our physicians to be patient facing, not computer facing, which is what many of them feel they are right now ... they feel that they have been turned into data entry clerks," he said. 

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