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Internists Say Health IT Rules Would Improve Patient Access to Data and Interoperability, More Still Needs to Be Done

Washington, DC (March 10, 2020) —The American College of Physicians (ACP) is fully supportive of the goals of health information technology regulations released by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), improving patients’ rightful access to their data and health information exchange; however, more needs to be done to protect patient privacy and avoid administrative burdens.

“Effective interoperability is crucial to improving the patient experience, reducing burden on physicians, and, in turn, improving the quality of care. Patients also have a right to easily access their electronic personal health information and be able to use and share that information as they see fit,” said Robert McLean, MD, MACP, president, ACP.  “That is why it is critical to make sure that regulations governing interoperability balance the desire to increase access to data with the need for privacy, while also focusing on exchanging meaningful and actionable data and allowing for ease of implementation for physicians.”

The final rule from Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC), entitled 21st Century Cures Act: Interoperability, Information Blocking, and the ONC Health IT Certification Program, and the final rule from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), entitled Interoperability and Patient Access were released yesterday. Both rules aim to improve patient access to data and electronic health information exchange, or interoperability.

“Increased access for patients to their personal information is a necessary step to transparency,” noted Dr. McLean. “This type of transparency could, in turn, help to improve the patient-physician relationship by better allowing patients to partner with their physicians and care teams in shared decision-making about their own health care.”

In comments on the proposed rules sent to ONC and CMS last year, ACP emphasized the need to promote patient data access while upholding patient privacy; the need to reduce unnecessary burden in meaningful ways; and, the need to establish reasonable timelines.

“We are happy to report that ONC and CMS heard our concerns about the proposed rule and will be making efforts to implement expanded data exchange requirements in stages, so that benefits and risks to patient data can be assessed appropriately,” continued Dr. McLean. “Maintaining trust in the patient-physician relationship and across the healthcare system is crucial. As these rules are implemented, a number of complex issues and concerns still need to be addressed regarding the privacy of patient data.”

Responding to concerns that ACP discussed in their previous comments, the final rules scale back the types of data that physicians will be required to exchange upon request, and focus on a core set of accepted data elements for exchange, at least initially. However, even with the improvements from proposed rule, ACP remains concerned that implementation of many of the provisions may result in unintended burden for both patients and physician practices.

“We appreciate some of the additional examples and modifications that were made in the ONC final rule to provide clarity around a number of provisions, including the information blocking exceptions. However, we remain concerned about the complexity and subsequent burdensome effects, and possible costs, these provisions will have,” concluded Dr. McLean.  “ACP is reviewing the final regulations in more detail and welcomes the opportunity to continue the conversation with federal partners and other industry stakeholders on how to best achieve the goals of meaningful patient access and health information exchange.”

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About the American College of Physicians

The American College of Physicians is the largest medical specialty organization in the United States with members in more than 145 countries worldwide. ACP membership includes 159,000 internal medicine physicians (internists), related subspecialists, and medical students. Internal medicine physicians are specialists who apply scientific knowledge and clinical expertise to the diagnosis, treatment, and compassionate care of adults across the spectrum from health to complex illness. Follow ACP on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.