- The Trump administration pushed back key deadlines for providers and health IT vendors to comply with sweeping data sharing regulations on Thursday. It's the second extension this year amid COVID-19, but likely to be the last, according to Don Rucker, head of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT.
- HHS is working to address the pandemic every day and "often into the night," Rucker told reporters on Thursday. "We do however believe that, in terms of the health IT bandwidth, we believe that this is a one-time event ... I would not anticipate any further things here."
- ONC released an interim final rule Thursday morning extending the deadline for hospitals and EHR vendors to exchange certain types of medical data from this coming Monday to April 2021, among other extensions and minor tweaks to the sweeping regulations.
HHS first delayed the requirements in April, when COVID-19's first spike in the U.S. was hitting hospitals hard, to free up provider and vendor resources for the pandemic response, but said it would continue to monitor the burden on the healthcare system to decide whether another extension was warranted.
However, with his comments Thursday, the nation's top IT official effectively closed the door on the potential for yet another extension — barring any major surprises.
Along with defining information blocking, ONC's interoperability rule updates the 2015 Edition certification EHR criteria to ensure IT systems send and receive data in a synchronous manner, while allowing patients to export and view their medical information, and standardizes application programming interfaces.
A lot of the technology needed to make this happen, as directed by Congress in the 21st Century CURES Act passed in 2016, is already in place, Rucker said.
"We think a lot of the things that from the provider point of view, the immediate urgent things, a lot of those things have already happened and this is a time to focus on a lot of the provisions in the CURES Act and some of the broader opportunities for the American public," Rucker said. "Obviously, as everyone has heard, COVID is ongoing, but our rule, the interim final rule, is really a reflection of the health IT resources and some of the related bandwidth around the rule."
ONC sees the information blocking provisions as critical to making sure patients can access their sensitive health information when they need it, officials have said. That deadline was originally this Monday but has now been pushed back to April 5, 2021, a more limited extension than some other compliance dates pushed back to 2022 or 2023.
The agency tried to strike a balance between giving actors more time to address the pandemic but keep information accessible. And, unlike some of the EHR certification program requirements, the information blocking provisions don't explicitly require actors to buy or upgrade health IT systems already in place, the interim final rule says.
"We believe actually a lot of the things that need to be done will have been built out, so the timelines make sense," Rucker said.
Another important deadline for vendors and other stakeholders to adopt standardized APIs was originally May 2022, though that's been extended another three months and is now Dec. 31, 2022. Vendors won't have to export electronic health information until Dec. 31, 2023.
The December dates took into consideration the twin CMS rule, to make sure they were consistent, Rucker said. CMS' interoperability rule requires payers to share certain clinical information with each other at a patient's request by Jan. 1, 2022. Additionally, it requires plans in federal programs like Medicare and the Affordable Care Act exchanges to provide patients with free electronic access to personal health data by July 1, 2021.
Rucker's comments mirror that of some major IT vendors when the rules were first released in March, that the initial timeline was doable. Of course, that was before the full brunt of COVID-19 hit the U.S.
Even still, some health IT experts have criticized the Trump administration's delaying the rules, especially since the infrastructure is already mostly in place, and free and unfettered data sharing could help the country coordinate its pandemic response. The U.S. is currently experiencing a third surge of COVID-19, with record-high new cases and rising hospitalizations heading into the winter months.