In early March, just days before the United States began to experience the COVID-19 pandemic in earnest, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) published a final rule that detailed requirements for implementation of the new “information blocking” rules put in place under the 21st Century Cures Act, which is intended to enable more widespread access, use and exchange of patient data. The final rule requires all physicians to come into compliance with the new requirements by November 2, 2020.
While the rule makes several important changes to electronic health record (EHR) vendor technology, including improving usability and interoperability, the rule also creates a new and complex set of administrative and regulatory requirements that physicians must follow in order to be compliant with the information blocking provisions.
Specifically, physicians are required to establish a new compliance framework to handle all medical record requests coming into their office. Information blocking rules require physicians to respond to and release patients' medical records for nearly every request they receive unless an appropriate exception can be claimed. Physicians must also examine, create, modify and update all policies and procedures their organization uses to manage medical record requests. Documenting how a physician applies exceptions—and their organizational policies—to each information request will be important in maintaining compliance with the information blocking rules.
The American Medical Association (AMA), along with several professional associations and provider organizations, sent a letter to ONC asking for enforcement discretion for at least one year to allow physicians time to come into compliance with the new rules without fear of being penalized.
The COVID-19 pandemic is straining physician resources and office staff and will make coming into compliance with the Nov. 2 deadline impractical.
“The final information blocking rules were released just as the U.S. began to experience the pandemic in earnest—mere days before many of us began working from home and as health care settings around the country were mobilizing to battle COVID-19. The time that had been set aside to focus on preparing for the pending information blocking and interoperability mandates has been overtaken by the all-encompassing effort required to fight this disease,” AMA wrote in a letter to ONC. “Unfortunately, the financial strains placed on our sector has left some of our members fighting for financial survival. Many have been forced to table plans to begin preparing for these new mandates regardless of how supportive they are of them, shelving or postponing planned software upgrades and other changes in order to focus on the most pressing issue surrounding COVID-19 – caring for patients.”
For more information on the new rule see the following resources from ONC:
- Information Blocking Overview
- Information Blocking Actors
- Information Blocking Exceptions
- ONC Overview of the Cures Act Final Rule