A Healthy Blog

Massachusetts health care — wonky, with a healthy dose of reality

E-Health in the Commonwealth!

E-Health in the Commonwealth!

August 4, 2008

In the wee hours of August 1, 2008, Senate, No. 2863 -- the Cost Containment Bill -- introduced by Senate President Therese Murray as Senate, No. 2660, several months ago, reappearing in between as House, No. 4974 -- passed both the House and the Senate.

What has seemed like a pipe dream -- a statewide system of interoperable electronic health records (EHRs) -- has been given a giant boost toward becoming a reality. Many of the pieces that Health Care For All and other consumer organizations have been advocating for: the ability of consumers to opt-in and opt-out of the health information exchange at any time; secure electronic access to consumers' own records; consumer notice of breach of information within 10 days; written guidelines informing consumers which parts of their health record will be available, to whom, and for what purposes; tightly maintained health record security; and the inclusion of an expert in health information privacy and security on the E-Health Advisory Board, made it into the final version. A landmark victory! Hats off to Senate and House leadership.

The potential of interoperable EHRs to enhance quality, increase patient engagement, reduce duplication of tests, and contain costs is enormous, but it can only be reached if consumers and providers alike trust the system. The inclusion of these requirements will go a long way toward winning that trust.

To paraphrase an oft-quoted expression, the devil will certainly be in the "e-tails," and the work of implementation will be neither easy nor quick. What Senate, No. 2863, offers is an excellent starting point.

Lisa Fenichel