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Healthcare players are actively blocking data sharing

Lucas Mearian | April 15, 2015
Technology is not the issue

The ONC went on to state, "some persons and entities are interfering with the exchange or use of electronic health information in ways that frustrate the goals of the HITECH Act and undermine broader health care reforms."

Being able to exchange healthcare data promises far greater benefits than just the convenience of data mobility. Patient data can be anonymized and used in accelerating scientific research and tracking health trends.

Today, Karen DeSalvo, national coordinator for health information technology, announced new efforts to curtail data blocking, saying the ONC's focus will be on interoperability.

In March, the ONC published its 2015 Edition Health IT Certification Criteria, a set of proposed rules for qualifying EMRs for use. Those rules will be under a public comment period until May 29.

Two weeks ago, the ONC released its proposed rules for "Stage 3" of Meaningful Use of EMRs, which focused on improving how electronic health information is shared and, ultimately, how care is delivered.

Steve Posnack, director of the ONC's Office of Standards and Technology Regulation, said the rules will include surveillance of active blocking.

Posnack said that surveillance will come in two forms: Investigations into complaints and random sampling of EMR software to see if it's baked into the product.

On a related note, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) today  announced $1 million in new grant programs to help improve sharing of health information in rural and poor areas as well as for entities not covered by its EMS Meaningful Use rules, such as extended care facilities.

Jodi Daniel, director of the ONC's Office of Policy Planning, said the agency will also focus on new medical vocabulary and content standards, and access to data for healthcare providers, patients and their care givers, which may include authorized friends and family.

DeSalvo warned that the ONC is neither an investigative agency nor an enforcement entity, but will instead work with other agencies, such as the Federal Trade Commission and Congress, who can impose fines and other penalties for organizations using unfair competitive practices.

"I think it would be fair to say it's going to take action on the part of the federal government with existing administrative authorities of the private sector, including [EHR] providers and developers to set expectations to set contracts and to have more transparency," DeSalvo said. "If necessary, there may be additional opportunities for Congress to weigh in."

In January, the ONC released a roadmap detailing how it would address interoperability. But revelations that industry vendors and others are actively blocking data sharing may prompt the it to take a more proactive role.

Healthcare experts say technology and standards aren't the problem. As Shah succinctly put it, "We have no healthcare interoperability crisis."


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