Electronic health records (EHRs) have a bad reputation of being a major hindrance to healthcare. In particular, one issue with this supposed modern technology is the lack of interoperability, or connectivity of patient records across different practices. Say, for example, that a patient is found to be allergic to a certain drug. The provider who discovers the allergy will enter it into that practice’s EHR, but there will be no record of the allergy when the patient goes to see a different practice with a different EHR. Thankfully, this disconnect may finally be about to change.
The 21st Century Cures Act, passed in 2016, forbids blocking health information, which is further defined as “preventing, discouraging, or interfering with the access, exchange, or use of information.” Though the specifics of how exactly the act will change EHRs is up to some interpretation, the document warns of penalties, including decertification, for those EHR vendors who contribute to blocked information.
In an attempt to steer the act toward allowing global EHR connectivity, 13 prominent medical groups have sent a letter to the heads of the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). This letter asks these departments to specify the act’s language to include concrete definitions of blocking and patient access, among others. It also asks for clarification on the penalties that will be meted out to those vendors that fail to cooperate, as well as how the act will work with future changes to EHRs and healthcare policies in general.
With any luck, ONC and HHS will act upon this advice and steer this act toward a law that will increase EHR connectivity for all. If your practice has struggled with keeping up with patient documentation from other practices, the struggle may soon be at an end.