Congress Passes 21st Century Cures Act, Impacting Health Record Privacy, Documentation, and Exchange

The US Senate voted on Wednesday to pass the “21st Century Cures Act” by a vote of 94 to 5. After receiving wide bipartisan support in the House of Representatives last week, the bill will now be sent to President Obama, who’s expected to sign the bill into law.

Winter Capitol HillThe act, which is largely devoted to regulations surrounding medical device and prescription drug approval, has numerous implications for health information management (HIM) and health IT professionals. AHIMA has been closely monitoring this legislation for a year and a half and has submitted comments on previous drafts of the law.

“We believe the bill is a step in the right direction in advancing medical innovation and we are glad to see that improving interoperability and addressing the uncertainty around the use and disclosure of certain types of health information are part of this conversation,” said Lauren Ellis Riplinger, JD, senior director of federal relations for AHIMA. “If we truly want to move healthcare into the 21st Century, HIM professionals know we need access to timely, accurate, and actionable data. This legislation helps advance that.”

Impact on HIM

Riplinger said that the portion of the bill that will have the biggest impact on HIM is the section “Title IV: Delivery” because it deals with improving nationwide interoperability. This section tackles issues that are near and dear to HIM professionals, such as information blocking, patient matching, and improving patient access to their electronic health information.

The Cures Act directs the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study to review methods for securely matching patient records to the correct patient, a measure that AHIMA supported in its comments to members of Congress. Additionally, the law gives the US Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS’) Inspector General the authority to investigate claims of information blocking. Penalties levied against entities found to be engaging in information blocking can run as high as $1 million per instance.

AHIMA also supports a provision in the act that calls for establishing public-private partnerships to build consensus and develop a “trusted exchange framework, including a common agreement among health information networks nationally,” the act states.

Another aspect of the act that AHIMA submitted comments on concerned allowing non-physicians, such as nurses or scribes, the ability to document in the patient record. According to the text of the act, it now allows “a physician, to the extent consistent with state law, to delegate electronic medical record documentation requirements specified by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to a person performing a scribe function who is not a physician provided the physician has signed and verified the documentation,” Riplinger said.

Finally, HIM professionals who deal with and manage mental health and substance abuse information need to pay close attention to the section of the law named “Title XI: Compassionate Communication of HIPAA.”

This section of the act calls upon the HHS Office for Civil Rights to issue additional guidance that would further clarify permitted uses and disclosures of protected health information of patients seeking or undergoing mental or substance use disorder treatment, including requiring HHS to develop model training and educational programs to educate stakeholders on such permitted uses and disclosures.

Click here to read a summary of all of the HIM and health IT provisions of the new law.



  1. 21st Century Cures Act and Healthcare | The SSI Group - […] deeper into the Act, the Journal of AHIMA (American Healthcare Information Management Assoc), reports […]

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