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Survey Paints Bleak Picture of Info Blocking Rule Readiness

Analysis  |  By Scott Mace  
   April 21, 2021

Nearly half of providers and payers surveyed had not made any changes as of April 5 effectiveness date.

A recent survey casts a pall over the April 5 enforcement phase of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) information blocking rule.

Fully half of 4,000 healthcare leaders surveyed in March demonstrated a broad lack of awareness and readiness to comply with these rules, according to the survey's organizer, Life Image, a medical evidence network for clinical and imaging data.

The survey of clinical, technology, and administrative leaders concluded that many organizations fall short of basic standards for interoperability, and that the rule meant to change this has generated general confusion, according to Life Image.

The final rules aimed to facilitate electronic access, exchange, and use of health information, reinforcing basic principles embodied in HIPAA that patients own their health data. Despite the intention of the April 5 rule, up to half of those surveyed reported still sharing records via paper or compact discs, or charging fees for record access. These practices are defined by the HHS Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) as constituting information blocking.

While 70% of participants in the Life Image survey said they were aware of the rules going into effect, nearly half had not made any changes, or were not aware of ways to meet requirements of the rule. Nearly half were not aware of policies or practices that could be considered information blocking.

Of those surveyed, 39% did not know that information blocking practices could result in them being liable to civil penalties. Also, of those interviewed, 15% currently charge $25 or more for patients to acquire their own records.

“Our recent survey validates what Life Image has been witnessing across the healthcare ecosystem in terms of interoperability readiness," said Matthew A. Michela, president and CEO of Life Image. "While the COVID-19 pandemic created massive challenges and delayed many interoperability initiatives, it also underscored the paramount importance of the final ONC rules for advancing patient care and driving innovation."

According to HIPAA 45 CFR § 164.524, providers must give patients, upon request, access to their protected health information in the form and format of the individual’s choosing, including electronic format and via third-party application. In an effort to address continuing industry resistance and barriers to interoperability, the ONC in March 2020 released the Final Cures Act Rule, based upon language in the 21st Century Cures Act. The rule mandates that patients be given greater control and access to their health data, targeting vendors and technologies that block information access.

David Schoolcraft, partner and chair of the digital health group at law firm Ogden Murphy Wallace, sees this as a pivotal moment for healthcare’s digital transformation. “This landmark regulation is also a massive undertaking as many stakeholders are currently non-compliant and are struggling to navigate the regulatory complexities,” he said. “As ONC starts enforcement, organizations must prioritize deepening their knowledge of these mandates and implementing changes to adapt to the evolving landscape, or run the risk of incurring significant penalties.”

Life Image provides a digital platform streamlining rapid exchange of medical images and related data. In a statement, the company said its technology was in use by 90% of the top hospitals in the United States.

Scott Mace is a contributing writer for HealthLeaders.

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