Federal Officials, Lawmakers Seek Ways To Bolster Interoperability

May 27, 2015 in News

Federal officials and lawmakers are working to find ways to increase interoperability and ensure the free flow of information, the New York Times reports.

Background

According to the Times, some electronic health record vendors, hospitals and laboratories intentionally prevent the exchange of health data, as detailed in the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT’s recent report on information blocking.

Various stakeholders also have experienced challenges to electronically sharing health information among providers.

For example, Reid Blackwelder, chair of the American Academy of Family Physicians, said that his clinic has an EHR system that is incompatible with the nearby hospital where he admits patients.

Blackwelder said, “When I admit patients to the hospital, I have to print out my notes and send a copy to the hospital so they can be incorporated into the hospital’s electronic records.”

Meanwhile, Amalia Miller, an economist at the University of Virginia, said, “Even when hospitals have the technological capability, they do not always share information with hospitals outside their system” because “[i]f information is portable, patients can switch providers more easily, and that could hurt the business of some hospitals.”

Acknowledgment of the issue varies among vendors, according to the Times.

For example, Epic Vice President Peter DeVault said, “We do not participate in any activities that could be described as information blocking.” He added, “To our knowledge, these activities are very rare, if they exist at all.”

However, athenahealth Vice President Dan Haley contradicted that statement, noting that information blocking “is a serious problem.”

“Some health IT vendors have business models that create real impediments to the sharing of medical information,” he said, citing the expenses associated with sharing data among different systems.

Details of Efforts

Lawmakers and federal officials recently have taken steps to address the issue, the Times reports.

For example, a law (HR 2) passed last month mandates that providers cannot deliberately block information sharing if they receive incentive payments for using EHRs.

Separately, a House committee last week approved a bill (HR 6) that would define the practice of information blocking as a federal offense. Violators would be subject to civil fines of up to $10,000 per offense.

Meanwhile, the Times reports that the Federal Trade Commission is working with ONC on similar issues.

Tara Isa Koslov, an FTC lawyer, said the agency is “paying close attention to developments in health IT markets and the reports of information blocking” (Pear, New York Times, 5/26).

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