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ONC delays compliance for information blocking provisions

Due to COVID-19, healthcare systems will now have until April 5, 2021 to comply with information blocking provisions in ONC's final interoperability and information blocking rule.

The COVID-19 pandemic is further delaying compliance requirements for a federal healthcare data sharing rule.

In an interim final rule released Thursday, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) amended its deadline on when healthcare systems have to comply with information blocking provisions from Nov. 2, 2020 to April 5, 2021. Healthcare stakeholders have 60 days to provide ONC feedback on the interim final rule.

The information blocking provisions outline exceptions for when healthcare systems can legally block the sharing of a patient's healthcare data. They were outlined in a broader interoperability rule that was finalized in March, the development of which was mandated by the 21st Century Cures Act passed in 2016.

ONC also announced on Thursday a decision to extend the compliance date for new ONC Health IT Certification Program requirements to Dec. 31, 2022. The new requirements were included in the larger interoperability rule and ask health IT developers, such as EHR vendors, to meet new technical and interoperability requirements before their product is certified as well as provide better cost transparency.  

Don Rucker, national coordinator for health IT, said ONC's decision to again delay compliance was prompted by the pandemic, which is forcing health IT leaders to prioritize their strategies and focus on providing technology that best supports providers and patients right now.

"Balancing the extraordinarily important need for the public to get healthcare information, which has been amplified by COVID-19, but also mindful of the fact that the stakeholders are busy with a number of their COVID-19-related activities, we wanted to give folks some additional time and flexibility to work on the immediate COVID-19 threat as we build out the longer-term response to both COVID-19 and the infrastructure," he said during a media briefing Thursday.

Second delay to information blocking provisions

The new delay marks the second time this year that compliance enforcement for the information blocking provisions has been extended.

A 5-month delay gives providers more time to review and implement the needed policies and procedures required to comply with these requirements.
Andrew TomlinsonDirector of federal affairs, CHIME

Rucker said the interoperability rule's overarching goal of giving patients access to their data remains, but the compliance delays are in recognition of the work COVID-19 has required of healthcare systems over the last several months. Rucker said he does not expect a third delay.

In September, healthcare stakeholders including the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) and the American Medical Association sent a letter asking ONC to extend the compliance dates for providers.

"While we had requested an additional year to prepare, a 5-month delay gives providers more time to review and implement the needed policies and procedures required to comply with these requirements," said Andrew Tomlinson, CHIME's director of federal affairs, in reaction to Thursday's news. "Providers are under tremendous strain working to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and now imminent cybersecurity threats, so it is crucial we all work to ensure they have the educational resources required for them to implement these requirements with as little impact to their other day-to-day priorities as possible."

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