ONC Moving Too Slowly on Information Blocking, say Health IT Stakeholders

Health IT stakeholder groups are frustrated with what they see as lack of progress from the government in combating the practice of information blocking, according to a letter sent to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC).

One of the promises of the 21st Century Cures Act, which was passed by Congress at the end of 2016, was that it mandated the creation of regulations that prohibit providers and health IT developers from engaging in information blocking. Information blocking is one of the biggest hurdles to the free flow of health data from one organization to another—known as interoperability. According to Health IT Now, which is made up of 14 health IT stakeholder groups, the Cures Act required ONC to issue regulations halting information blocking, as well as create a standardized process where members of the public could report instances where health IT products are not interoperable or where other activities actively hamper information exchange.

“As the administration proposes and implements new rules related to open APIs and interoperability in Medicare’s payment rules for hospitals and doctors, the lack of clear rules of the road needlessly create uncertainty for vendors and providers alike,” they wrote.

The letter, which is dated August 6, 2018, notes that it’s been over 600 days since the law’s passage. “The administration has had 601 days to draft and publish clear information blocking regulations. We understand the nuance required, but feel that it is past time for a proposal to be made.” In a speech at ONC’s Interoperability Forum this week, ONC chief Don Rucker, MD, said that the information blocking regulations are a “work in progress,” according to Politico. Rucker said the timetable for releasing regulations has been pushed back to September.

ONC defines information blocking as “an act or a course of conduct that interferes with the ability to exchange or use electronic health information where permitted/authorized.” Examples include “implementing fees that make data exchange cost prohibitive, or technology designed or implemented in non-standard ways that inhibit the exchange of information.”

The 21st Century Cures Act provides a number of ways for the industry to challenge such practices, such as identifying reasonable and necessary activities that do not constitute information blocking, and allowing the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (OIG) to investigate credible claims of information blocking.

Health IT Now also addressed its letter to the OIG. To read it, click here.

Rucker previewed ONC’s actions on information blocking in a blog post for the journal Health Affairs.

Mary Butler is the associate editor at Journal of AHIMA.

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