Apple, Microsoft—but no EHR vendors—send letter urging HHS to allow API access to patient records

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Industry groups say the use of application programming interfaces (APIs) can make it easier for patients to obtain their data on personal devices, such as smartphones or tablets. (Pinkypills/Getty Images

Despite objections from companies like electronic health records giant Epic, more than a few dozen organizations are ramping up pressure for the federal officials to finalize proposed data-sharing regulations.

Nearly 30 companies and organizations sent a letter (PDF) Thursday to calling for the regulations to be published "without further delay." 

The rules will help to improve the exchange of electronic medical records, the groups, including Apple, Microsoft, Aledade, and IBM, said in the letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Acting Director Russell Vought.

No electronic health records (EHR) companies signed the letter.

Industry groups that signed on in support included the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA), Boston Children's Hospital, Missouri Health Connection, The Pew Charitable Trusts, the American Telemedicine Association (ATA), and The CARIN Alliance.

RELATED: AMA, CHIME call for ONC to make major changes to data blocking regulation

Many of these same companies—as well as EHR vendor Cerner—met with OMB officials Monday to voice strong support for efforts to give patients access to their health data.

The rules from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), issued last year, would require the health IT industry to adopt application programming interfaces (APIs) to help patients more easily access their health data.

The ONC proposed regulation would also prevent healthcare organizations from using information blocking tactics.

CMS also is proposing in its rule that Medicare and Medicaid plans make claims information available to their members using APIs.

Industry support for the regulations has become increasingly palpable in the past week, likely in response to EHR company Epic's vocal, public opposition to the proposals.

Last week, Epic CEO Judy Faulkner emailed hospital chief executives urging them to speak out against the ONC rule. The company also posted its concerns about the interoperability rule on the front page of its website on Tuesday. Epic also is calling for ONC to add transparency requirements and privacy protections for apps gathering patient data before the rule is finalized.

RELATED: Epic's Judy Faulkner: ONC data blocking rule undermines privacy, intellectual property protections

Epic is not the only stakeholder with concerns.

Back in September, the American Medical Association (AMA) and the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) and several other industry groups called for another round of rulemaking, saying that federal policymakers needed to make major changes to the proposed regulations. 

RELATED: Verma takes a shot at Epic for using privacy concerns to 'hold patient data hostage'

Federal policy leaders have taken shots at organizations opposing the rules. CMS Administrator Seema Verma said Wednesday that "bad actors" won't succeed in "holding patient data hostage."

On Monday, Azar blasted what he referred to as "scare tactics" by private sector players to oppose and stall the regulations. "Unfortunately, some industry stakeholders are defending the balkanized, outdated status quo," Azar said.

The groups signing the letter in support of the interoperability proposals said the regulations would "revolutionize the exchange of medical records—ensuring that patients can access their own data and fostering innovation in the tools available to health care providers."

APIs can make it easier for patients to obtain their data on personal devices, such as smartphones or tablets, and aggregate their own records from many different health care providers and health plans, according to the groups.

Clinicians could also use APIs to implement new decision support tools, such as programs that help select the most appropriate medication or create a targeted treatment plan.

"By finalizing the rules, the administration can provide patients, technology developers, and health care providers with clarity on API requirements so that these stakeholders can continue to work with government on private sector and policy solutions to increase the privacy and security of data exchange no matter where the data reside," the groups wrote.

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