The Information Blocking final rule was designed to eliminate intentional barriers to electronic health information (EHI) exchange and allow patients seamless access to their health records.  This rule grants patients access greater control over their personal health information.  It promises to simplify sharing of patient records between patients, healthcare and organizations.  The compliance date has shifted from November 2020 to April 5, 2021 due to the pandemic.  Having a clear understanding of the Information Blocking Rule will support efforts for strong preparation.

  • For providers, this rule presents an opportunity to gain quicker insight into the health of patients and many of the factors that influence better outcomes.
  • Smooth and unencumbered information-sharing will help advance innovation, accelerate communication, reduce duplicative care and keep healthcare costs in check.

Effectively meeting the ONC’s requirements will help providers differentiate within the marketplace allowing patients greater access and efficiency of care.  Below are a few important points to keep in mind about this rule.

  1. Avoid Information Blocking: Information blocking is defined as a practice that is likely to interfere with, prevent, or materially discourage access, exchange, or use of electronic health information (EHI). It applies to any request for electronic health information from any requestor; it is not limited to just patient requests, it includes other information such as insurance and financial records.
  2. Who: The information blocking prohibition is relevant for healthcare providers, developers of certified health IT, and health information networks or health information exchanges.
  3. When: The ONC final rule does not impose any specific timeframe requirements for providing EHI. Rather, ONC notes that “unnecessary” delays could constitute a prohibited interference.  Providers will need to determine reasonable timelines and document in policy.  Timeliness requirements imposed by other laws, such as HIPAA or similar state laws, may provide useful guidelines (depending on the specific circumstances) as the information blocking prohibition does not extend any otherwise-applicable timeframe requirements.  The ONC incorporates the Content and Manner Exception when responding in alternative manners.  Whether a delay is “unnecessary” will depend on the specific facts and circumstances.
  4. How Much: The ONC rule includes an exception for fees that “permits the recovery of certain costs reasonably incurred for the access, exchange, or use of EHI” including a reasonable profit margin.  However, a fee prohibition applies to electronic access by the individual, their personal representative, or another person or entity designated by the individual.  Electronic access is defined as an Internet-based method that makes information immediately available at the time requested with no manual effort.  So, if the information is available to the individual, their personal representative or designee via an internet-based method that makes information immediately available without any manual effort, charging a fee could be information blocking. But if a provider is pulling information from various systems to provide access via the internet, the provider’s cost related to that manual effort can be recovered.
  5. Why: Ultimately, the goal of interoperability is to support data sharing that enables better health care and patient outcomes.  By taking the time to fully understand the information blocking prohibition, health care providers can ensure compliance, avoid penalties, and support the goals of promoting interoperability.