On April 10, ONC released its Report to Congress on Health Information Blocking (the “Report”).  Here is a brief summary of the report, the full text of which is available here.

ONC has stated that its views health information blocking as frustrating the goals of HITECH and the Meaningful Use initiative.  ONC defines information blocking as conduct which:

  1. Interferes with the ability of authorized persons or entities to exchange electronic health information; and
  2. is done knowingly with the intent to block information exchange; and
  3. is not justified by reasonable business, technological, or public policy reasons.

ONC recognizes that there may legitimate reasons why EHR systems are not interoperable.  The Report focuses on the non-legitimate reasons, and highlights the following behavior:

  1. Contract terms which restrict individuals’ access to their EHR;
  2. Charging prices or fees for data exchange, portability, and interfaces which make exchanging EHR cost prohibitive;
  3. Developing health IT in “non-standard” ways which may increase the costs of sharing health information (particularly when interoperability standards have been adopted);
  4. Developing health IT in ways which may “lock in” users or their data, leading to fraud, waste or abuse, or otherwise impede innovation in health information exchange.

The Report is careful to explain that ONC would weigh such practices against legitimate considerations whether they are technological, regulatory, or economic in nature.

Continue Reading ONC Releases Report to Congress on Health Information Blocking

Continuing to usher in a new wave of EHR technology changes, on September 11, 2014, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (“ONC”) adopted the “2014 Edition Release 2” final rule, which provides alternative criteria and approaches for the voluntary certification of heath information technology. The final rule, effective October 14, 2014[1], introduces regulatory flexibilities and general improvements to the certification processes.

First, the rule adopts a new (albeit smaller) subset of optional EHR Certification Criteria. Of the 57 proposed certification criteria in the February 26, 2014 notice of proposed rulemaking, the final rule adopts only ten optional and two revised EHR Certification Criteria. The Certification Criteria changes include:

Continue Reading ONC Announces New EHR Certification Criteria

On September 4, 2014, the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) published a final rule modifying the Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Record (“EHR”) Meaningful Use Incentive Program. The modification brings welcome change, allowing increased flexibility while also assuaging several provider concerns.

The new rule, effective October 1, 2014, comes in response to numerous public comments lamenting the inability of providers to meet the 2014 meaningful use objectives—an inability that brought with it financial penalties. As part of the new rule, HHS made four distinct changes to the EHR Incentive Program:

1. Altered the meaningful use stage timeline and definition of certified electronic health record technology (“CEHRT”). The new rule implements a one-year extension of Stage 2 for providers that first joined the Program in 2011 or 2012. The timeline to begin Stage 3 has thus been postponed until 2017. In keeping with this timeline shift, HHS also formally modified the CEHRT definition to reflect this date change, thus postponing until 2015 the required start date for exclusive use of 2014 Edition CEHRT.

Continue Reading New HHS Rules Focus on Increased Flexibility, Improvements in the World of EHR Technology

In issuing Advisory Opinion 14-03 (the “New Opinion”) in early April, OIG also took the highly unusual step of rescinding another advisory opinion issued in 2011, Opinion 11-18 (the “2011 Opinion”). Both opinions involve electronic health record (EHR) interfaces that facilitate physician referrals to outside providers and suppliers for ancillary services. As OIG continues to signal its increasing interest in policing EHR-related fraud, this action only serves to reinforce the idea that not only should providers using such systems should be vigilant in ensuring that their systems are compliant with established meaningful use requirements, they should also ensure that vendor relationships that involve EHR coordination comply with federal anti-kickback and Stark law rules as well.

The 2011 Opinion originally examined and found acceptable an arrangement whereby a provider of electronic practice management services (the “First Requestor”) offered a package of EHR software to clients for a discounted monthly subscription fee. The First Requestor charged a small per-transaction fee for the service of facilitating electronic referrals between health professionals and other physicians and ancillary service providers who were not “trading partners,” meaning that they had not enrolled in First Requestor’s service. The total amount of fees that the First Requestor could collect from a provider was capped at the amount of the discount on the overall package. Services provided included the transfer of relevant records, tracking communications between the providers, tracking orders by referring providers, and issuing patient referral reminders. The First Requestor provided trading partners with access to a database of information about providers offering certain services (i.e., labs, pharmacies, DME suppliers, and imaging services) that included both trading partners and non-trading partners.

Continue Reading OIG Terminates Prior Opinion on EHR Exchange Fee Structure