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Republican congressman entertains hosts from across the health IT political divide

Congressman Michael Burgess, M.D., is something of an anomaly: a Republican politician who more or less supports adoption of electronic health records and meaningful use.

The key words here are “more or less.” One could say that the Texas lawmaker, who went into politics after 30 years as a practicing ob-gyn doc, likes EHRs a lot, but has merely learned to live with meaningful use even though he instinctively considers the Democratic administration’s health IT policy burdensome and expensive.

As a moderate GOP figure of some clout (he is founder and chairman of the bipartisan congressional healthcare caucus) and with a willingness to talk with Democrats, he has forged a working relationship with national health IT coordinator Karen DeSalvo, M.D.

And so it came to be that Burgess was invited to address a decidedly liberal crowd gathered in an ornate Washington, D.C. hotel ballroom during National Health IT Week for a day of discussion about patient engagement initiatives, hosted by ONC and graced by a DeSalvo keynote.

Now, as health IT is once again ensnared in political warfare on Capitol Hill – with vendors, CIOs and other players pitched against CMS and ONC to ease up on meaningful use – Burgess joined the chorus of cries to make meaningful use easier to do. A new bill would do an end-around the administration and force CMS to go back to a 90-day, rather than 365-day, attestation period for stage 2 for 2015.

“I hear from hospitals, I hear from doctors, I hear from patients, the problem is still there,” Burgess said.

However, Burgess appeared to somewhat grudgingly accept the meaningful use program itself, saying the health IT sector ought to at least wisely spend the program’s $35 billion in incentive funds.

Even so, Burgess took an interesting tack at the ONC-sponsored event, one that appeared designed to poke or provoke his hosts, whose latest overarching policy framework is promoting interoperability to the max to the virtual exclusion of meaningful use.

“Maybe the focus should have been on interoperability [before], and meaningful use coming later,” the congressman said. “But we are where we are.”

Burgess also took the standard conservative shot at the FDA, accusing the regulatory agency of stifling innovation by moving too slowly and regulating too much.

(In reality, the FDA recently effectively deregulated the booming market for mobile health and wellness apps and devices as Apple, Google, Microsoft and others roll out and beef up big m-health initiatives – raising safety worries among some critics.)

As he wound down his spiel, Burgess struck a conciliatory note.

“I know that young people who are going into medicine today are going to have tools at their disposal to alleviate suffering that doctors have not had in the past,” he said.

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