EHRA defends comments on information blocking

Members of HIMSS' Electronic Health Records Association (EHRA), apparently stung by negative media and other reaction to the group's letter to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT regarding the agency's interoperability report, have written a blog post clarifying its position.

In the post, GE Healthcare IT's Charles Parisot, chairman of EHRA's standards and interoperability workgroup, and Cerner's Hans Buitendijk, vice chairman of the workgroup, clarify that the letter to ONC, which provided comment on ONC's report to Congress in April, was attempting to provide "balanced" feedback on information blocking.

The first challenge, they said, is to come up with a definition of information blocking that everyone agrees on. In addition, they noted that charging for interface software and services is not the same as information blocking, and said that as long as there are no interoperability standards, the cost to provide interoperability will inevitably be higher. Moreover, as the demand for data exchange grows, over time it will reduce any "perverse incentives" to block information.

"We find, based on review of the report and subsequent policy discussions, that the concept of 'information blocking' is still very heterogeneous, mixing perception, descriptive, and normative issues in ways that are not easily untangled," they wrote. "As a result, this concept and 'label' does not provide a good basis yet for policy actions or enforcement, as it could encompass a broad range of actions, few of which are likely to warrant civil or other penalties."

EHRA's original letter, sent in September, indicated that ONC and policymakers may be overstating the problem of information blocking and run the risk of overreaching to what may be isolated incidents of such activity. EHRA had expressed various concerns with the report, such as the fact that much of the reported blocking is merely anecdotal, and that some information blocking is due to regulatory issues, not vendor or provider behavior. EHRA had also recommended that basing legislation on the report would be premature and that a "light touch" national framework to provide guidance would support more rapid program towards interoperability.   

Information blocking remains a major barrier to data sharing. This obstacle becomes even more acute now that the Meaningful Use program and payment reforms increasingly encourage or rely on data exchange among providers.

To learn more:
- here's the blog post