Due to COVID-19, the federal government is extending compliance dates for a complex federal regulation aimed at ending information-blocking practices that impede the secure exchange and use of electronic health information by patients, doctors, and health care organizations.
On Oct. 29, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) released an interim final rule that extends the timeframe for implementation of the 21st Century Cures Act’s information blocking requirements to April 5, 2021 (45 CFR Part 171), (§ 170.401).
Kansas physicians and other health care providers have long been subject to a wide variety of privacy laws under HIPAA. However, in the past providers have had some discretion regarding when and how they shared medical records with other providers and patients. Now new rules governing “information blocking” will impose new responsibilities in fulfilling requests for health care information beginning on April 5, 2021. “Information blocking” is defined as the prohibited practice of interfering with access, exchange, or use of electronic health information (EHI).
The new rules apply to health care providers, health IT developers, and health information networks such as the Kansas Health Information Network (KHIN). The new rules define “health care provider” broadly to include most provider types such as hospitals, nursing homes, and practitioners.
According to the final rule, information blocking is any act or omission that a health care provider knows is unreasonable and likely to interfere with, prevent, or materially discourage access, exchange, or sharing of electronic health information. The proposed rule offered examples of what might be considered information blocking. For example, a provider might impermissibly block information if the provider refuses to release information for a shared patient to an unaffiliated provider for treatment purposes.
There are exceptions to the information blocking rule. The exceptions are grouped into two categories: exceptions that involve not fulfilling requests and exceptions that involve procedures for fulfilling requests. With the delay to April 5, 2021, it is important to review the final rule and then (1) analyze which rules apply specifically to you or your practice (2) review current practices for compliance regarding sharing electronic medical records, and (3) update technology, policies, and implement additional training relevant staff.