information blocking

In health information technology (HIT), information blocking is the result of an unreasonable constraint imposed on the exchange of patient data or electronic health information. The U.S. Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) outlines three criteria for identifying when information blocking has occurred -- there has been interference, there has been knowledge and there is no reasonable justification for the data to be inaccessible. 

Interference can be caused by policies that prohibit sharing information as well as technical or organizational practices that make sharing information more difficult or expensive. Knowledge involves a conscious decision to block information; if individuals or entities are not aware that their actions will interfere with data exchange, they have not committed information blocking. Information blocking practices that involve unreasonable interference and awareness are contrary to the public's interest in improving health and health care quality and efficiency. However, conduct that is required to comply with federal or state privacy laws would not be considered unreasonable and would not constitute information blocking under the criteria set by the ONC.

Federal health officials have heavily criticized information blocking, and work is underway to mandate that such actions are not allowed under certain Medicare reimbursement laws, such as Medicare Access and Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (MACRA). While one of the effects of information blocking is that it presents a barrier to interoperability -- in particular, when data does not flow freely between different electronic health record systems -- conduct that prevents information from being shared is only considered information blocking if it meets the three criteria set forth by the ONC.

There are several different types of electronic health information, as well as factors that may impede the sharing of electronic health information. An example of conduct that hinders information sharing but would not be considered information blocking is a lack of coordination between persons or entities that participate in or facilitate the exchange of electronic health information.

This was last updated in August 2016

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