The fiscal year 2015 Omnibus Appropriations bill passed by Congress includes legislative language directing the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT to decertify electronic health record products that are effectively blocking the sharing of health information.

“ONC should use its authority to certify only those products that clearly meet current meaningful use program standards and that do not block health information exchange,” states the bill. “ONC should take steps to decertify products that proactively block the sharing of information because those practices frustrate congressional intent, devalue taxpayer investments in [Certified EHR Technology], and make CEHRT less valuable and more burdensome for eligible hospitals and eligible providers to use.”

The legislation instructs ONC to submit a detailed report, not later than 90 days after enactment by Congress, regarding the extent of the information blocking problem. The report would include an estimate of the number of vendors or eligible hospitals or providers who block information, and a strategy on addressing the information blocking issue.

Congressional appropriators also instruct ONC’s Health IT Policy Committee to submit a report to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations and the appropriate authorizing committees not later than 12 months after enactment regarding the challenges and barriers to interoperability. “The report should cover the technical, operational and financial barriers to interoperability, the role of certification in advancing or hindering interoperability across various providers, as well as any other barriers identified by the Policy Committee,” states the legislative language.

In March, industry stakeholders at a Federal Trade Commission workshop in Washington on healthcare competition warned that the proliferation of closed data networks are trapping providers and patients into proprietary networks that are barriers to interoperability and competition. Specifically, they charged that some health systems block patient information sharing in ways that have antitrust implications.

Business practices that inhibit or block the electronic sharing or transfer of health information are a serious concern, particularly developers or providers who restrict information exchange with users of other EHR products or HIE services, according to ONC. The agency has publicly pledged to work more closely with FTC to formulate policies that “improve transparency, promote interoperability, create incentives for quality, and reduce barriers to competition and innovation.”  

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