September 27, 2019
Interoperability is a consistently hot topic in healthcare, and as a PR firm specializing in healthcare IT thought leadership PR and marketing, we often find ourselves thinking and writing about its potential industry impact.
In the last year, interoperability has been especially topical due to the recently proposed “Information Blocking” rule from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The new regulation is intended to mandate seamless exchange of electronic health information in an effort to facilitate innovation, improve patient care by allowing physician access to clinical records, and enable patients to access and control their health information.
With the public comment period for these rulings having closed back in June 2019, CMS and ONC are now reviewing feedback which will inform the final ruling which will likely go into effect in January 2020. The government’s efforts to push the industry towards wide-spread interoperability seems well-intended and may be just what the healthcare industry needs, however it could also have unintended consequences. One particularly alarming potential byproduct of this rule we are concerned about is a widening of the already considerable financial and technical gap between large, successful, mostly urban health systems, and their rural, community access counterparts which are currently struggling with razor-thin margins.
Leaving the industry to its own devices when it comes to interoperability has not been a very effective strategy to date, and there is a great deal of variability in interoperability sophistication from hospital to hospital, and health system to health system as a result. Because of this, government intervention in the form of the information blocking rule may just be a necessary step towards getting everyone on the same page. However, complying with the new ONC/CMS information blocking rule will be far more manageable for hospitals and health systems with more technical and financial resources. Smaller organizations will have very limited amounts of time, money and people to address, implement, and manage the requirements of such a rule.
Given the disparity of resources throughout the industry, we should expect compliance with the information blocking rule to look different for everyone, and ultimately organizations that lack in resources should be given time, deference and assistance in meeting its requirements. While this ruling is probably necessary for an industry so reliant on information technology, it will be important for government-regulated policies to find ways to adapt and adjust penalties depending on the organization.