ONC offers new compliance extension for information blocking rules

The updated interim final rule, meant to offer providers and developers more flexibility as they respond to COVID-19, also pushes out health IT certification requirements.
By Mike Miliard
12:47 PM
U.S. Interoperability Map

Healthcare stakeholders will have a bit of extra time to get their ducks in a row for the information blocking rules and IT certification requirements outlined in the 21st Century Cures Act.

The original due date was coming soon: next Monday, November 2.

The info blocking applicability date is now April 5, 2021 – while new requirements around standardized API functionality have been pushed out to New Year's Eve 2022.

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But the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT announced Thursday that HHS would extend the time frames for requirements related to the information blocking rules for healthcare providers and HIEs, and the conditions and maintenance of certification (CoC/MoC) for technology developers.

ONC describes the new compliance date and corresponding provisions as follows:

April 5, 2021

  • Information blocking provisions (45 CFR Part 171)
  • Information Blocking CoC/MoC requirements (§ 170.401)
  • Assurances CoC/MoC requirements (§ 170.402, except for § 170.402(b)(2) as it relates to § 170.315(b)(10)) 
  • API CoC/MoC requirement (§ 170.404(b)(4)) – compliance for current API criteria 
  • Communications CoC/MoC requirements (§ 170.403) (except for § 170.403(b)(1) – where we removed the notice requirement for 2020)

December 31, 2022

  • 2015 Edition health IT certification criteria updates (except for § 170.315(b)(10) – EHI export, which is extended until December 31, 2023)
  • New standardized API functionality (§ 170.315(g)(10))

One Calendar Year Extension

  • Submission of initial attestations (§ 170.406)
  • Submission of initial plans and results of real world testing (§ 170.405(b)(1) and (2))

"We are hearing that while there is strong support for advancing patient access and clinician coordination through the provisions in the final rule, stakeholders also must manage the needs being experienced during the current pandemic," said Dr. Don Rucker, national coordinator for health IT, in a statement.

"To be clear, ONC is not removing the requirements advancing patient access to their health information that are outlined in the Cures Act Final Rule," he emphasized. "Rather, we are providing additional time to allow everyone in the healthcare ecosystem to focus on COVID-19 response."

THE LARGER TREND

The new extension – which had been hinted at – is the second bit of leeway offered by ONC since the final info blocking and patient access rules were introduced in early March, just as the pandemic was gaining steam.

On April 21, the agency responded to the COVID-19 crisis by exercising enforcement discretion to give three months after each initial date or timeline outlined in the first edition of the final rule.

By extending those compliance dates even further, ONC hopes the new interim final rule issued will offer that much more flexibility and time for stakeholders to comply with the API-enabled patient access goals of the rules, while also continuing to respond to the public health challenges of the current crisis.

ON THE RECORD

"The overall goal here still remains absolutely the same," said Rucker on a press call Thursday. "And it was really amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic: We want to have tighter and better care for patients and providers. We want patients and providers, especially in this time of social distancing, required to minimize the spread of [COVID-19] to be able to effectively use electronic communications to their absolute fullest underlying technical capability.

"So this is a careful balancing of the absolute importance of interoperability and standardized application programming interfaces with free and clear access to the information," he explained, "with the reality that we've heard from our provider-side stakeholders that they're working so hard on some of the critical technical underpinnings of telehealth and other related resources that that have to be their first priority."

Rucker added, however: "I do want to make absolutely clear that it's still our and the administration's goal: putting patients' fingertip availability of their medical information on their smartphones in a very modern kind of way, and we look forward to continuing to work with everyone to get patients the benefits of modern technology that they have not had to date in healthcare, though they've had that in every other part of their lives."

Twitter: @MikeMiliardHITN
Email the writer: mike.miliard@himssmedia.com

Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS publication.

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