As the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) moves forward to publish its proposed interoperability rules and President Trump had planned to address the topic at HIMSS, many hospitals may be left wondering: How does this affect us?
The pair of rules—which mandate interoperability of EHR data such that patients can access it themselves or share with third-party apps—has stoked heated division among healthcare leaders since they were first proposed by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) in February 2019. In the year since, many groups have come forward with split opinions, both for and against.
A Split Industry
On the one hand, opponents (either in whole or in part) include the American Hospital Association and Epic Systems, who cite concerns with security and privacy as well as a timeline that some say is impractical. On the other, supporters include Apple, Cerner, Microsoft and the American Academy of Family Physicians who believe the move represents a positive contribution to interoperability. Ultimately, HHS has said its goal is to make healthcare data more accessible, transparent and cost-free to patients.
No matter which side you fall on—yay, nay or somewhere in between—the rules stand to impact hospitals and health systems across the country, as well as the EHR systems they use, potentially sooner than later. Depending on what the final rules say, here’s a trio of major points facilities should consider:
1. Public Reporting
In an effort to incentivize against “information blocking” (actions that limit disclosure and data availability), HHS has proposed the public reporting of providers or hospitals that engage in the practice. That could effectively create a blacklist of violator facilities, so hospitals will want to ensure compliance to avoid it.
2. Implementation Timelines
Hospitals should be mindful of the implementation runways mandated by the final rules, which have stirred up concerns about being too short. For example, the AHA’s commentary cited the day-of effective date for information blocking provisions, which would require hospitals to comply starting the day the rule is published or be penalized. As a result, the AHA requested a minimum of 18 months—so watch out for timelines in the final rules.
3. Compliance Documentation
HHS baked in certain allowances that accommodate added protections, but hospitals will need to prove that they’re engaging in permissible exceptions as opposed to information blocking. The full scope of that required documentation has been included in the proposal and will no doubt be keenly reviewed by health systems once the final rule is published.
Combined with portions related to price transparency, these rules were born from a growing chorus supporting data access, and they could very well impact participants in every part of the care continuum, with the greatest potential impact on patients. Given that individuals accounted for an “unusually” active group of respondents during HHS’ extended commentary period, it’s clear that interoperability, price transparency and data access are all issues that hit close to home for patients and providers alike.
Interoperability and Clinical Communication
Where does clinical communication fit into all this? As a HIPAA-compliant solution that pulls—in real-time—only the most necessary EHR data as opposed to storing that data, these rules won’t affect clinicians’ ability to freely communicate and collaborate on our platform. Still, it’s important to know how health technology vendors are integrating with hospital systems and with one another. For Mobile Heartbeat, interoperability is core to our enterprise-grade solution: We have more than 60 partners in our CURE Connect™ Interoperability Program, which integrates with telephony, patient monitoring, nurse call and other mission-critical solutions for better, faster, more integrated care delivery.
Outside of that, be sure to watch HHS developments closely to understand how the rules could affect your health system moving forward. For further reading, Becker’s Hospital Review provided an informative timeline of events related to the rules, while the Advisory Board’s deep dive on the issue provides context on the two sides of the debate.
For more information on interoperability basics for hospitals and other stakeholders, check out the AHA’s resource, Sharing Data, Sharing Lives: The Hospital Agenda.