Health groups call on the feds to delay the information blocking deadline by a year

The federal government has set October 6 as the deadline to comply with a rule aimed at improving the release 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 information-sharing rule, ten major health care organizations are asking the government for more time.

Health industry groups have sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services asking to push back the deadline for a year. Groups include the American Hospital Association, American Medical Association, Essential Hospitals of America, and the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME).

“Based on the feedback from our members that continues to accumulate, it is evident that healthcare providers, clinicians and providers are not fully prepared for the October 6 deadline,” the letter reads.

“Therefore, we respectfully request that HHS consider both extending the information blocking compliance deadlines for a period of one year – including October 6, as well as using warning communications from corrective action to providers/clinicians before imposing monetary disincentives or commencing 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 organizations are doing their best to comply, but many will not be able to meet this deadline.

“CHIME members remain steadfast in their commitment to being a trusted partner to patients and protecting their ability to access their health records, but it is clear that more time is needed to ensure providers have a thorough understanding of these important policies,” Branzell said in a statement. “There hasn’t been enough guidance on best practice and potential application.”

The federal government defines information blocking as efforts to deny or prevent access, sharing, or use of electronic patient health information. The government is pushing to facilitate the exchange of information between health systems, insurers and patients to improve outcomes.

Through August 31, the Federal Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology reports that it has received 452 complaints of possible blocking of information. Most complaints come from patients. More than 80% of complaints (371 out of 452) involve accusations of health care providers blocking access to health information.

US Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in March that most of the complaints were about health care providers. He warned that the government would take a closer look at organizations that block 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 that the results are available, but the patient has not yet been able to get the results because the doctor was out of town.

In the letter to the Health Department, CHIME and the other healthcare groups said a major barrier to compliance is “the widespread failure to support access, exchange and use of ‘EHI (Electronic Health Information) There is no clear definition of EHI and there is a lack of technical infrastructure to support its secure exchange.

Healthcare organizations have been taxed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and a recent AMA survey found that physician burnout has reached a new high. CHIME argued that meeting the deadline would only add stress to many overworked healthcare teams.

Health systems interpret what data should be shared, and what can be exempted, in different ways, the letter says. Some areas of confusion include information regarding substance use and mental health, the letter says,

Even large health providers are puzzled, smaller providers are likely to be more confused, the health groups said in the letter.

Small health systems also rely on electronic health record providers to comply, but hundreds of smaller health information technology providers are not ready to meet the deadline, CHIME said. Vendors have a deadline for delivering required upgrades on Dec. 31, 2022, about three months after the vendor compliance deadline, the groups said.

As well as extending the deadline, health groups have called on the government to put in place more training and education efforts, including some aimed at mid-sized and smaller providers.