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Note from the editor

After years of public and private efforts to tear down data silos in the healthcare system, the Trump administration in March finalized two sweeping rules prohibiting information blocking and standardizing EHR and software data exchange.

Though industry supports interoperability in theory, pursuit of the goal — giving patients inexpensive access to and control over their own medical data, while enabling better care coordination and medical research — threatens entrenched interests and has made payers, providers and health IT companies skittish of the rules from the start.

Opponents argue lowering the barriers to data sharing in healthcare could harm the security of highly sensitive medical data. Software vendors in particular have fought the regulations, saying allowing patients to export their health data into third-party apps, which aren't held to the same HIPAA standards as healthcare organizations, could result in a tsunami of leaks.

But the coronavirus crisis has highlighted the acute need for interoperable health IT infrastructure in the U.S. Real-time data sharing could enable physicians to directly report COVID-19 testing and treatment data to public health registries, helping agencies to coordinate pandemic response. Patients could remotely access their medical records, speeding telehealth adoption and facilitating care in the home.

HHS delayed the rules' implementation timeline in April to lighten administrative burden on providers during this tough time, and privacy worries aren’t going away anytime soon. But it's clear those in the industry who want to avoid interoperability won’t be able to do so much longer.

Rebecca Pifer Reporter

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