October 30, 2020, 11:26 am News Staff -- The administration has again delayed implementation of an information blocking and interoperability rule that was to have taken effect Nov. 2, citing the outsized burden already placed on physicians by COVID-19.
The compliance deadline is now April 5, 2021, Don Rucker, M.D., national coordinator for health information technology, announced Oct. 28 — just five days ahead of the long-planned change.
AAFP Vice President and Chief Medical Informatics Officer Steven Waldren, M.D., M.S., anticipated this development.
“We have been waiting to upload content on our website, confident this rule would change the timelines,” he told AAFP News after HHS’ announcement. “And even if it did not, there are no current penalties for physicians for information blocking.”
Indeed, the reprieve follows lobbying by physician and health care organizations to give practices inundated by the pandemic more time to prepare for a rule that was not issued in its final form until just before the COVID-19 outbreak was declared a pandemic.
“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,” Rucker said in a statement.
“To be clear, ONC is not removing the requirements advancing patient access to their health information that are outlined in the (21st Century) 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 information blocking rule is meant to facilitate broader sharing of electronic health information among health systems across platforms and devices. Its mandate against blocking such sharing prohibits physicians from unnecessarily hindering the sharing of patients’ health information with other clinicians or the patient themselves, except under certain exceptions. The rule is part of the 21st Century Cures Act, which passed in 2016; in 2018, the Academy, alongside 13 other organizations, rebuked Rucker for slow-walking implementation of the law. The AAFP has since urged further refinement of several elements contained in the legislation, including those on interoperability and information blocking.
In a statement this past March, the Academy signaled that finalization of the rule was a welcome step forward in the ongoing push for an interoperable U.S. health care system.
The AAFP and other organizations outlined interoperability principles in a white paper that underscores the importance of promoting patients’ meaningful access to their health data while protecting their privacy, and without burdening clinicians.
The interim rule implementing the compliance delay also updates standards and makes clarifications to the final phase of the interoperability rule, HHS said in its announcement.