The federal government has set an Oct. 6 deadline to comply with a rule designed to improve the spread of health data. The American Hospital Association, America’s Essential Hospitals and others say they need more time.
Facing a pressing Oct. 6 deadline to comply with a federal rule on information sharing, ten leading healthcare organizations are asking the government for more time.
The healthcare industry groups sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services asking to push the deadline back a year. The groups include the American Hospital Association, American Medical Association, America’s Essential Hospitals and the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME).
“Based upon feedback from our members that continues to build, it is evident that both healthcare providers, clinicians and vendors are not fully prepared for the October 6th deadline,” the letter stated.
“Therefore, we are respectfully requesting that HHS consider both postponing for a period of one-year the information blocking compliance deadlines – including October 6th, as well using corrective action warning communications to providers/clinicians prior to imposing any monetary disincentives or beginning a formal investigation.”
CHIME, which helped organize the letter, said the organization continues to be a supporter of information sharing. Russ Branzell, president and CEO of CHIME, said that organizations are doing their best to comply but many won’t be able to meet that deadline.
“CHIME members remain steadfast in their dedication to be a trusted partner for patients and safeguard their ability to access their healthcare records, but it’s clear that more time is needed to ensure that providers have a thorough understanding of these important policies,” Branzell said in a statement. “There has not been enough guidance on best practices and potential enforcement.”
The federal government defines information blocking as efforts to deny or impede the access, sharing, or use of electronic patient health information. The government is pushing for the easier exchange of information between health systems, insurers and patients to improve outcomes.
Through Aug. 31, the federal Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology reports it has received 452 claims of possible information blocking. Most of the complaints have come from patients. More than 80% of the complaints (371 of the 452) involve accusations of healthcare providers blocking access to health information.
U.S. Secretary for Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra said in March that most complaints have involved healthcare providers. He warned the government is going to be taking a harder look at organizations that are blocking access to information.
In a video address to the HIMSS conference, Becerra recounted a complaint involving a patient waiting to hear about a biopsy and being told the results are available, but the patient couldn’t get the results yet, because the doctor was out of town.
In the letter to the health department, CHIME and the other healthcare groups said a major impediment to compliance is “the widespread inability to support access, exchange, and use of EHI (electronic health information). There is no clear definition of EHI and there is a lack of a technical infrastructure to support its secure exchange.”
Healthcare organizations have been taxed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and a recent AMA survey said physician burnout has reached a new high. CHIME argued that sticking with the deadline will only add to the stress of many overworked healthcare teams.
Healthcare systems are interpreting what data has to be shared, and what qualifies for exceptions, in different ways, the letter stated. Some areas of confusion include information regarding substance use and mental health, the letter stated,
Even large health providers are perplexed, smaller providers are likely to be more confused, the health groups said in the letter.
Smaller health systems are also relying on electronic health records vendors to comply, but hundreds of smaller health information technology vendors aren’t ready to meet the deadline, CHIME said. Vendors have a deadline to deliver required upgrades of Dec. 31, 2022, about three months after the deadline for providers to comply, the groups said.
In addition to postponing the deadline, the health groups asked the government to set up more training and education efforts, including some aimed at medium-sized and smaller providers.