Rockefeller bill calls for nationwide adoption of open source EHRs

WASHINGTON—Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) has introduced legislation aimed at facilitating nationwide adoption of electronic health records, particularly among small, rural providers.

The Health Information Technology Public Utility Act of 2009 builds upon the successful use of "open source" electronic health records by the Department of Veterans Affairs as well as the "open source exchange model," which was recently expanded among federal agencies through the Nationwide Health Information Network-Connect initiative, Rockefeller said.

"We need advancements in health information technology across the board to improve the quality of care Americans receive," said Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Health Care, in a statement.  "To make this happen, we need universal access to affordable and interoperable health information technology - from small, rural health clinics to large, urban hospitals."

"We commend Senator Rockefeller for his leadership and the creation of this historic legislation," said Michael J. Doyle, president and CEO of Medsphere, a company that sells [Ed. Note: support and services for] commercially supported open-source software based on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' VistA EHR.

"With the proven success of open source technology used in the Department of Veteran Affairs and at independent hospitals across the country, the time is right for best practice standards to be shared rather than recreated at each hospital in America," Doyle said.

"Open source software is a cost-effective, proven way to advance health information technology—particularly among small, rural providers," Rockefeller said. "This legislation does not replace commercial software; instead, it complements the private industry in this field—by making health information technology a realistic option for all providers."

The bill proposes to:

  • Create a federal Public Utility Board within the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT to direct and oversee formation of this HIT Public Utility Model, its implementation and its ongoing operation.
  • Implement and administer a 21st Century Health IT Grant program for safety-net providers to cover the full cost of open source software implementation and maintenance for up to five years, with the possibility of renewal for up to five years if required benchmarks are met.
  • Facilitate ongoing communication with open source user groups to incorporate improvements and innovations into core programs.
  • Ensure interoperability between the programs, including innovations, and develop mechanisms to integrate open source software with Medicaid and CHIP billing.
  • Create a child-specific Electronic Health Record to be used in Medicaid, CHIP and other federal children's health programs.
  • Develop and integrate quality and performance measurement into open source software modules.