How to Ensure Your Practice Complies With the New Information Blocking Rule
As you’ve probably heard, there’s been an update to the information blocking rule. The definition of electronic health information (EHI) has been expanded to cover all patients’ electronic protected health information (ePHI).
We created this post to simplify the technicalities and help you understand the update. You’ll also find tips to ensure your practice complies with the new information blocking rule as well as a handy resource from the AMA at the end of this article.
What is the New Information Blocking Rule?
The information blocking rule is a law in the 21st Century Cures Act (Cures Act) that prevents medical practices from restricting access, exchange and use of patients’ electronic health information (EHI).
Previously, the rule applied to specific data in the United States Core Data for Interoperability (USCDI). But, as of October 6, 2022, the meaning of EHI in the information blocking rule has been redefined.
The new information blocking rule now requires medical practices to provide access to ALL the electronic protected health information (ePHI) data of a patient. This means there are no longer limits to patients’ data that can be made accessible or transmitted electronically.
Simply put, patients now have the right to request and access ALL of their electronic medical records. In the method of their preference. They can also authorize an exchange or sharing of ALL their records with a third party to better facilitate coordination of care.
What’s the Purpose of the New Information Blocking Rule?
The new information blocking rule aims to give patients unrestricted access to their medical records. With the ability to access and exchange all their protected health information electronically, patients can better track and manage their health.
Also, the new information blocking rule improves interoperability. In addition to providing easy access to patients, healthcare providers must also provide access to other providers. This will enable practices to exchange information and collaborate to provide patients with better care and quality outcomes.
For instance, if a patient has to change providers or is seeking a second opinion from another provider: The new rule ensures that new authorized parties can access all of the patient’s electronic health information recorded when the patient is in your care.
How the New Information Blocking Rule Can Affect Your Medical Practice
Information blocking is against the law and has penalties. All acts that inhibit the access and exchange of patients’ electronic health records are reported to the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG), which investigates all information blocking allegations.
A civil monetary penalty of up to $1M is prescribed for health information technology companies found guilty of information blocking. On the other hand, no specific monetary penalties have been put in place as of this post for health providers.
However, healthcare providers that block information will be referred to an appropriate agency for appropriate disincentives. Although the penalty may or may not be severe, it’s best to avoid violating the law.
Beyond the possible penalties, blocking patients from accessing all their electronic health information may give your practice a bad reputation. Patients may leave negative reviews online or via traditional methods that will hurt your brand and bottom line.
What are the Exceptions to the New Information Blocking Rule?
Despite the redefinition of the information blocking rule, the ONC outlines eight exceptions to the rule. Here are are the exceptions in the forefront for healthcare providers.
Preventing Harm Exception: If sharing a patient’s EHI would harm them or someone else, an information block is allowed. For instance, a patient’s medical records may contain sensitive behavioral information, so you’ll be unable to share all of the EHI.
Privacy Exception: You can block access to a patient’s EHI by a third party to protect the patient’s privacy. For instance, if a patient’s consent is required by law before sharing their data and they decline, then information blocking is allowed.
Infeasibility Exception: This applies when you genuinely cannot provide access to EHI. For instance, if your practice doesn’t have electronic records, you won’t be expected to convert paper records. However, you must provide all the paper records to the patient, as per HIPAA rules.
5 Tips to Ensure Your Practice Comply with the New Information Blocking Rule
Although there are no specific penalties for health providers yet, here’s how to ensure your practice doesn’t violate the new information blocking rule to avoid the potentially dire consequences.
1. Review and Update Your Information Blocking Protocol
Review and update your information blocking protocol to include the new update. Write it down and make sure your team reads and understands it. Also, check your electronic health records (EHR) software to ensure it complies with the new information blocking rule.
2. Train Your Staff to Comply
Some patients may call to inquire how they can access all their EHI. Empower your team to help patients access their health information. And, train them to handle different information request scenarios, as well as exceptions.
Also, train your medical staff to adjust how they document patient notes. They have to be conscious of the language they use to document their observations, as patients may misunderstand notes.
3. Make it Easy for Patients to Access Their EHI
Although you’re not required to use specific technologies or methods to provide access to patients’ EHI, whatever you choose must be easy to use. Simply emailing patients, or whoever they authorize, their complete medical records work. Bottom line is to meet the patient’s requested form and format while ensuring your process includes notification (as well as patient sign off) of potential security risks if and when transmitted via unencrypted methods.
If you have a patient portal, other web platform, or app, you should enable patients to download their EHI from there. You should also allow other authorized providers to link to your system to access patients’ electronic data.
4. Explain Why You Can’t Provide Access
If you can’t provide access and it’s in line with exceptions outlined by the ONC, ensure you explain to the patient. Good communication will prevent being wrongly accused of information blocking.
For instance, the infeasibility exception – suppose some of the patient’s medical records are in paper formats. Don’t just tell them that you can’t or don’t provide electronic health information. Explain why to keep patient satisfaction high.
5. Don’t Charge Patients for EHI
The cost of access is one factor that restricts patients from accessing their health information. But, with the new information blocking rule, gone are the days of charging patients for printing their medical records.
So, avoid charging patients a fee to grant access to their EHI. Providing access to patients’ own health information in electronic formats shouldn't result in an out of pocket cost.
The days of denying patients’ electronic health information (EHI) and insisting on printing paper records are over. With the information and tips in this guide, you should now be able to put measures in place to provide patients and other authorized healthcare providers with quick and easy access to patients’ EHI.
For help and guidance, the AMA has a concise guide to understanding and complying with these changes. Also be attuned to federal vs state laws and which supersedes when honoring patient requests for their electronic health records.