Sequoia Project launches initiative to help providers, health IT companies comply with information blocking rule

Doctor computer medical records
About 80% of providers report that the pandemic has impacted their readiness to comply with new interoperability and patient access rules from HHS. (Getty/BrianAJackson)

The Sequoia Project has launched an initiative to help providers, health IT developers, and health information exchanges get into compliance with upcoming federal data-sharing mandates.

The organization, a non-profit dedicated to solving health IT interoperability for the public good, has created three new community subgroups as part of its Interoperability Matters initiative and under its information blocking workgroup. 

The groups were established to reflect the issues facing distinct stakeholders and other communities affected by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology’s (ONC) final rule on interoperability and information blocking, the Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) proposed rule on information blocking enforcement and any related future rulemaking, the organization said.

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The Sequoia Project expects to expand to more subgroups over time.

RELATED: Providers, payers struggling to comply with interoperability mandates amid COVID-19 pandemic: survey

“We’re hoping these subgroups help communities address specific operational issues and best practices regarding information blocking regulatory compliance and implementation,” said Mariann Yeager, CEO of The Sequoia Project in a statement. “The information blocking workgroup has done a great job setting up these subgroups and we look forward to addressing the specific needs of our communities.” 

HHS' information blocking rule, which was finalized in March, requires that electronic health data be made available to patients at no cost and defines exceptions to data blocking.

As part of the ONC rule, certified health IT developers are required to make available standardized application programming interfaces (APIs) that will aid in patient access to their health information on a smartphone.

The rule requires hospitals and doctors to provide software access points, or endpoints, to their electronic health record databases so that patients can download these records to their smartphones. The rule also aims to penalize information blocking, or anti-competitive behavior, that hinders the exchange of medical information.

The information blocking requirements were set to take effect on Nov. 2. An interim rule issued by the Trump administration in October extended the compliance deadline by an additional five months. Providers won't be required to come into compliance until April 5, 2021. Compliance for conditions and maintenance of certification requirements related to application programming interfaces (APIs) will also go into effect in April 2021.

New standardized API functionality won't be required until December 2022.

RELATED: Trump administration pushes back compliance deadline for info blocking rule

Despite the delay, providers and payers have signaled that they need help and are still struggling to meet the compliance deadlines while addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.

About 80% of providers report that the pandemic has impacted their readiness to comply with new interoperability and patient access rules from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), according to the survey from the eHealth Initiative (eHI).

“We’re excited to launch the three new subgroups that will address the practical needs of specific communities in regard to evolving information blocking regulatory activities,” said Paul Uhrig, chief legal officer at Bassett Healthcare Network and Information Blocking Workgroup co-chair. “By sharing best practices and identifying key issues from those on the ground, we can accelerate progress.”

The Sequoia Project's information blocking workgroup is part of its Interoperability Matters initiative, which engages experts from across the healthcare and health IT communities to identify and prioritize pressing challenges to nationwide health information sharing.

The workgroup is focused on the practical implications, as well as unintended consequences of, the relevant ONC and OIG rules. While the workgroup focuses on broader implications of the proposed rules, the subgroups will explore more discrete issues and opportunities relevant to specific stakeholders, the organization said.

The subgroups will launch in January 2021.