Understanding information blocking and the expectations for healthcare organizations

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In April 2021, the 21st Century Cures Act Final Rule went into effect, prohibiting healthcare entities from information blocking to break down barriers that have historically limited patient access to electronic personal health information (ePHI). To allow entities an opportunity to phase in their compliance, the initial rollout of the rule only covered a subset of electronic health information (EHI). However, as of October 6, 2022, entities will be responsible for complying with information blocking as it applies to the full scope of EHI.

Information blocking may be the most important change to health information since HIPAA. However, it’s important to point out that information blocking is not a HIPAA rule and applies to all healthcare providers—not just HIPAA-covered entities.

Information blocking relates to any practice that might interfere with access, exchange, or use of ePHI, including any designated record set, regardless if a covered entity maintains the group of records or if the records are maintained for a covered entity.

In short, with few exceptions, healthcare providers, tech vendors, health information exchanges, and health information networks (HIN) can’t prevent EHI access. The rule assumes that if HIPAA permits a patient or any other entity or individual to access records, they should be given access without delay, using almost any technology the requester chooses. Those requests do not have to be event-triggered.

For healthcare providers, it’s about knowing which practices are considered unreasonable and likely to interfere with, prevent, or materially discourage access, exchange, or use of EHI.

If an organization fails to provide access, without delay, to a person permitted access under HIPAA and other laws, that may be considered information blocking.

The ultimate goal is to improve healthcare data flow and facilitate improved and coordinated patient care with more patient engagement in healthcare decisions.

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