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Health data sharing rules ignite debate between Epic, HHS

Contentions over proposed health data sharing rules, which would require health systems to implement standardized APIs, continue to heighten.

EHR vendor Epic recently sent a letter signed by about 60 health systems to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar opposing proposed rules aimed at creating better health data flow between health systems and patients, according to a report from CNBC. They highlighted patient privacy concerns and called on federal regulators to address those concerns before finalizing the rules.

The rules were proposed by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) a year ago and were submitted to the Office of Management and Budget in October.

Azar pushed back at the Health Datapalooza conference in Washington D.C. Tuesday, saying ONC and CMS’s “bold interoperability rules will finally put patients in charge of their data.” He noted during his keynote talk that some details of the rules “may be complex,” but the ultimate goal is for patients to have better access to their data and better choices for how to get that data.

He went on to directly address the recent complaints, saying “defenders of the balkanized, outdated status quo have fought our proposals fiercely.”

“I want to be quite clear — patients need and deserve control over their records, and interoperability is the single biggest step we can take toward that goal,” he said.

Azar said “scare tactics” won’t stop the reforms the proposed health data sharing rules aim to achieve, and giving patients control over their health records is at the center of HHS’s efforts to “build a value-based healthcare system.”

“Seamless health IT systems, and patient use of smartphone apps, hold huge potential for delivering affordability and quality through price transparency and competition,” he said.

In a statement, Epic said, “We are supportive of the goals of the proposed regulations, but we believe that important changes must be made to the rule before it becomes final in order to protect the privacy of patients and their personal health information. We appreciate the work that HHS is doing to incorporate different perspectives and ensure that the final rule is a good one.”

Other organizations have voiced support for the rules being finalized, including EHR vendor Cerner, NewYork-Presbyterian, and tech giants Google, Apple and Microsoft.

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