What’s the news: The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is extending compliance dates for a complex federal regulation aimed at ending information-blocking practices that impede the secure exchange and use of electronic health information by patients, doctors and health care organizations.

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The HHS Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) says the final rule, implemented under the 21st Century Cures Act (Cures Act), now has an “applicability date” of April 5, 2021. On and after that date, all “actors”—which includes health information networks and exchanges, EHR vendors and health care providers—“will be subject to information blocking.”

The compliance deadline delay comes in response to the AMA’s advocacy efforts. A Sept. 29, 2020 letter from the AMA, the American College of Physicians, the American Hospital Association and others told the ONC that “the COVID-19 pandemic continues to monopolize our members’ time and attention, and has strained resources, drastically limiting our members’ ability to prepare” for the Nov. 2, 2020 deadline that had been in place.

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The AMA has unveiled two essential resources to help physicians understand what the new regulation means for them and their medical practices:

Why it’s important: Reflecting longstanding concerns raised by the AMA, patients, and health care community stakeholders, the Cures Act included provisions to promote health information interoperability, patient access to their records, and to prohibit info blocking.

Information blocking can occur in many forms. Physicians can experience info blocking when trying to access patient records from other providers, connecting their EHR systems to local health information exchanges, migrating from one EHR to another, and linking their EHRs with a clinical data registry.

Patients can also experience info blocking when trying to access their medical records or when sending their records to another provider. AMA supports legislative and regulatory prohibitions on info blocking and is a longstanding advocate of eliminating major contributors to info blocking.

These include:

  • Restrictive and unfair contractual limitations on physicians’ use and exchange of medical information.
  • Excessive fees charged to create EHR interfaces or connections with other health IT.
  • Technical or nonstandard methods of implementing EHRs and other health IT that block the access, exchange or use of medical information.

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Yet, while the regulation addresses information-blocking issues by health IT vendors, physicians may also implicate the info blocking rule if they knowingly take actions that interfere with access, exchange or use of electronic health information (EHI), even if no harm materializes. The AMA is working with ONC to identify and reduce the rule’s complexity and unintended consequences, such as the rule’s requirement to release lab results without physician and patient review.

Learn more: Find out about three EHR information-blocking tactics that can harm patients. Also, read this in-depth AMA summary of the ONC rule and a companion Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ rule on patient access to data and interoperability.

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