ACP Steps Up Efforts to Help Members Prep for New Information-Blocking Regulations

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Resource center on ACP website provides guide for members to comply in time for the April 5, 2021 deadline

Feb. 19, 2021 (ACP) – The April 5th deadline for practices to comply with new information-blocking regulations is just around the corner, and the American College of Physicians is focused on helping physicians get ready.

The new regulations are designed to give patients access to their health information by preventing information-blocking practices by health care “providers,” including hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, health care clinics, group practices and laboratories; health information technology (IT) developers; and health information exchanges and health information networks. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services developed these regulations to support the MyHealthEData Initiative and 21st Century Cures Act.

The rule's compliance date was delayed once due to coronavirus, and there was some momentum to delay it again as many practices are still struggling as a result of the pandemic.

But “this is happening,” said Brooke Rockwern, ACP senior associate of health IT policy. “Your patients will be able to request that data be downloaded onto their phone or request access to lab results for whatever reason, and if you don't or can't comply, it could result in an information-blocking claim against your practice.”

To prevent these claims from happening and protect practices, ACP has put together a new resource center where members can learn what is expected of them and when.

There are things to do to get ready, Rockwern said. She advises practices to reach out to their electronic health record vendors if they have not been contacted already and find out what they are doing to ease compliance with these new regulations.

It is also important to become familiar with the eight exceptions that can protect a practice from penalties under the final rule, which is also explained on the resources page. Exceptions to information blocking fall into two broad categories: those that involve not fulfilling requests due to the nature of the request and those that involve procedures for fulfilling requests. For example, there is a patient harm exception that a practice can use if there is concern that sharing information will cause harm. “If concerning lab results are posted to the patient portal before the physician has time to explain or discuss the results with a patient, , this could potentially cause harm to the patient and you may be able to delay those specific results and claim an exception,” Rockwern said.

The same preventing-harm exception may apply if a parent or legal representative seeks access to a minor's health information, she explained. Procedure-related exceptions may apply when the practice is willing to share the requested information, but in a different format or with a fee attached. “Knowing how to document these exceptions will protect your practice in the event of an audit,” Rockwern said.

ACP is also building a practice advisor module that offers CME credit and will include several scenarios to help members get a more practical idea of when information blocking could be an issue and when exceptions likely apply.

In addition to its own resource center, ACP has joined forces with a coalition of other health IT and physician groups, including the American Medical Association, to create the Information Blocking Resource Center, which will include tools and resources to help prepare health care professionals for the April 5, 2021 applicability date.

“Adherence may be more taxing for independent doctors and smaller practices who don't have a compliance program officer,” Rockwern said. “We are providing as much guidance as we possibly can, but we don't know what enforcement will be like yet.”

More Information

The ACP Practice Resources page “Interoperability and Information Blocking Regulations” is available on the ACP website.

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Back to the February 19, 2021 issue of ACP Advocate