HHS released its much-anticipated final rules on EHR interoperability, ruling against “information blocking” tactics by EHR vendors and giving patients more control over their medical records.
The new rule will be applied over the next two years and will make patient records downloadable to smartphones using consumer apps. Overall, members of the healthcare industry applaud these efforts to make patient information more accessible to improve healthcare delivery. However, there are privacy concerns around how patient data can be used once downloaded to third-party consumer apps that weren’t addressed in the final rule.
Here is a brief list of a few potential winners and losers of the new rule.
Patients. Patients now have more control over their medical records and will be able to access them through third-party apps for free, which will make it easier for them to take their medical records to new providers outside of their previous provider’s system. As a result, they will have more choice in where they go for healthcare.
Hospitals and physicians. The lengthy process of trying to convert a patient’s medical records will be unnecessary. Patients will no longer need to have their medical records faxed between healthcare facilities in different networks and the rule will streamline workflow around gathering patient data to provide the best possible care. Hospitals participating in Medicare and Medicaid will also be able to send electronic notifications to other facilities or providers when a patient is admitted, transferred or discharged under its new “Coordination of Participation” rule.
App developers and health IT startups. App developers that allow patients to store their health data and medical information will have access to that data, a virtual gold mine. The federal privacy protections limiting how providers and insurers share medical records do not apply when patients transfer data to consumer apps, according to the New York Times.
Apple and Microsoft. Healthcare providers will be required to send medical data in a format that is compatible on third-party apps including Apple Health Records. Microsoft is also working to sell technology in the health sector, and the new rule will make it easier, according to CNBC.
Patients. While the rule has many benefits to patients, there is also potential for disaster. Patients who download their medical information on consumer apps may find their information shared or sold. There could also be additional security issues if those apps are hacked. Finally, some patients may become confused by their medical records and notes if the information isn’t stated clearly, causing further anxiety around their care.
Hospitals and clinics. Patient leakage may become more common if it’s easier for patients to take their medical records with them. Healthcare organizations will also need to prepare for an influx of patient data and have strong governance procedures in place as they partner with payers and other organizations to incorporate clinical data with patient-gathered data and potentially social determinants of health data.
EHR vendors. EHR companies must now adopt application programming interfaces so their systems can communicate with third-party apps. EHR companies have two years to comply and face up to $1 million per violation for engaging in “information blocking.” The new focus on interoperability may also pave the way for competitors to gain market share over the two most dominant players, Epic and Cerner.
Epic. Epic was a notable opponent to the HHS interoperability rules, citing patient privacy concerns. If forced to collaborate with other companies, Epic could potentially lose its edge over competitors, according to an op-ed written by former HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson in the Wisconsin State Journal. He contended Epic would have to “give its trade secrets away to venture capitalists, Big Tech, Silicon Valley interests and overseas competitors for little or no compensation.” Epic is also the most dominant EHR, holding 28 percent of the acute care hospital market, which could be threatened by greater interoperability. However, in response to the final rule’s release, Epic issued a statement saying that it would focus on “standards-based scope for meaningful interoperability.”