HHS Delays Enforcement of Information Sharing and Interoperability Rules

The new interoperability and data sharing rules that were announced by the HHS on March 9, 2020 were due to take effect and become enforceable this year; however, the COVID-19 pandemic has seen the HHS take the decision to exercise enforcement discretion and effectively give healthcare organizations more time to comply with the new rules.

The new rules were introduced by the HHS’ Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) and the HHS’ Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) as required by the 21st Century Cures Act. The rules are intended to improve care coordination within the healthcare system, give patients better access to their healthcare data, and prevent information blocking.

The ONC rule is mostly concerned with improving data sharing in healthcare, and includes the requirement for health IT developers to establish a standards-based application programming interface to support health information exchange and allow easy patients to have easy access to data in electronic health records, including allowing EHR data to be sent to health apps of the patients’ choosing. The CMS rule is concerned with preventing information blocking by EHR developers. It also calls for electronic notifications to be sent to the primary care providers of patients when they are admitted, transferred, or discharged, to improve care coordination and help ensure patients receive timely follow up care.

According to a statement issued by the HHS on April 21, organizations are being given some flexibility due to the COVID-19 public health emergency and a new timetable has been released with the new compliance dates.

The ONC issued a press release explaining that the compliance date for certain provisions of its final rule have been extended by three months in order to provide flexibility for healthcare organizations while ensuring the aims of the rule remain on track. The provisions of the CMS interoperability rule have also had a compliance date extension of six months to help healthcare organizations continue to focus on their efforts on tackling the COVID-19 public health emergency

Also, this week, the HHS’ Office of Inspector General published a new proposed rule in the Federal Register that amends civil monetary penalty rules to allow fines to be issued in cases of information blocking. A timescale for enforcement has not been set, with OIG seeking feedback from industry stakeholders on when enforcement should begin.