Providers and vendors are getting an additional five months to comply with new regulations aimed at improving data sharing.
The Trump administration issued an interim final rule Thursday extending the compliance deadlines for healthcare information blocking and interoperability regulations. It's the second time the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has pushed back the timelines due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The new rule extends dates identified in the information blocking provisions, including the November compliance deadline for providers, as well as dates for the Conditions and Maintenance of Certification provisions requiring electronic health record (EHR) platforms to be interoperable.
The information blocking requirements were set to take effect Nov. 2. Under the interim rule, 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.
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.
“We are hearing that while there is strong support for advancing patient access and clinician coordination through the provisions in the final rule, stakeholders also must manage the needs being experienced during the current pandemic,” said Don Rucker, M.D., national coordinator for health IT In a statement.
“To be clear, ONC is not removing the requirements advancing patient access to their health information that are outlined in the Cures Act Final Rule. Rather, we are providing additional time to allow everyone in the health care ecosystem to focus on COVID-19 response.”
The interim final rule issued Thursday provides the health care ecosystem additional flexibility and time to effectively respond to the public health threats posed by the spread of COVID-19, ONC officials said.
The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) issued a statement supporting the delayed compliance deadlines.
"We feel this is a prudent decision, as the reallocation of resources due to the COVID-19 pandemic has made it challenging for many health information professionals to ensure their institutions are sufficiently in compliance by November 2," said AHIMA chief executive officer Wylecia Wiggs Harris.
The six-month delay gives healthcare organizations additional time to see that their institutions’ policies and procedures are in place to fully enable the access, exchange, and use of electronic health information, Harris said.
Discussing the long-term implications of the interoperability rule during a virtual event Wednesday, Rucker said the new data-sharing regulations will advance the use of medical data from consumer devices like the Apple Watch to address chronic conditions.
The ability to pull in this data through the use of APIs will help improve population health efforts, he said.
The data-sharing requirements also will drive the industry to adopt a new business model that mixes brick-and-mortar services with virtual care.
"The biggest impact will be the new opportunities to rethink interactions with patients. Look at the various retail models that mix brick and mortar with virtualization," Rucker said.
ONC's interoperability regulation will give patients unprecedented access to their healthcare information much the way they already manage their finances or travel information.
"We expect the app economy to take off and change the dynamics around electronic discussions with providers," Rucker said.