ONC’s Data Blocking Report Spurs Mixed Reaction on Enforcement

April 15, 2015 in News

Several groups have commented on a recent Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT report that found some health IT vendors and health care providers are intentionally blocking the sharing of patient information, Modern Healthcare reports (Tahir, Modern Healthcare, 4/10).

Report Details

In the report, ONC listed several complaints that it has received, including that vendors have:

  • Charged high fees to establish connections and share patient records;
  • Required customers to use proprietary platforms; and
  • Made it prohibitively costly to change electronic health record systems.

Further, the report found that many hospital systems complicate the transfer of patient records to rival providers to control referrals and enhance market dominance.

The report noted that ONC does not have the authority to regulate prices and that many of the actions in question do not violate laws. The agency wrote that it could decertify EHR systems that intentionally block data sharing but warned that doing so would wrongly penalize customers.

ONC outlined several actions that can be taken to address information blocking, such as:

  • Assisting federal and state law enforcement agencies in identifying information blocking cases that violate current laws; and
  • Working with CMS to create incentive payments that reward interoperability and health data sharing (iHealthBeat, 4/10).

Stakeholders Weigh In on ONC Enforcement

At the HIMSS15 conference on Tuesday, National Coordinator for Health IT Karen DeSalvo reiterated comments from the report, noting that “ONC doesn’t have the authority to go out and do investigations and enforce practices that we’ve identified in the information blocking report.”

However, she added that “[t]here may be other agencies that have some authority” to do so, noting that ONC has discussed the matter with the Federal Trade Commission and CMS (Gruessner, EHR Intelligence, 4/14).

Health IT Now Executive Director Joel White in a statement said that “Congress should work together with the [Obama] administration to give ONC the enforcement tools needed to put a stop to these harmful and anti-competitive business practices” (Health IT Now release, 4/14).

However, Dan Haley — vice president of government and regulatory affairs at athenahealth — applauded ONC for exposing the practice, but he encouraged the agency to take a hands-off approach.

Haley said, “The market is solving for this problem,” adding, “It’s not because federal government is telling us we have to, it’s because our clients are telling us we have to.”

Robert Tennant, director of health IT policy at the Medical Group Management Association, said, “Much of the data blocking is a product of business decisions made by stakeholders that is beyond effective control by the government” (Modern Healthcare, 4/10).

AMA Comments on Report Findings

Meanwhile, American Medical Association President-elect Steven Stack in a statement said that while AMA agrees with most of the report’s findings, the group “simply [does] not support the notion of further tying physician payments or their participation in Medicare to activities outside their control.” Rather providers “will require better technology and standards that enable data exchange and care coordination.”

Stack also reiterated AMA’s belief that ONC should not “be the driving force in the creation of a national health information exchange governance framework” (AMA release, 4/10).

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