Since the emergence of COVID-19, digital technologies have served as welcome solutions for hospitals and health systems as they looked for ways to keep their patients, physicians and staff safe.
Healthcare IT teams raced to provide telehealth, remote care, predictive analytics and other tools to help monitor patients and manage what remains a public health emergency in the U.S. The pandemic continues to place demands on healthcare organizations that innovative IT teams are trying to meet.
The last thing IT leaders need right now is another disruption, but that is what they face with a looming federal policy deadline. In May, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology and CMS released landmark regulations following through on mandates in the 21st Century Cures Act. The first of these major regulations—the date at which all actors must comply with the updated information-blocking requirements—is scheduled to take effect on Nov. 2.
The new information-blocking and interoperability requirements stemming from the 21st Century Cures Act are intended to usher in a greater ability to exchange information across the care continuum. This will necessitate hard work by both providers and vendors. Despite the significant benefits these policies are expected to bring, the pandemic has needed an all-hands-on-deck commitment from healthcare organizations' IT teams, leaving little time for them to absorb the magnitude of tasks mandated under the new rules.
Failure to comply with these upcoming information-blocking requirements is expected to bring significant penalties and disincentives. While provider penalties have yet to be articulated by HHS, compliance nonetheless is required by Nov. 2. With many providers already struggling to stay economically viable due to economic impacts from COVID-19, failure to comply or choosing to delay compliance is simply not an option.
To be clear, many members of the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives have told us they strongly support ONC's and CMS' efforts to make patient data more accessible. They are championing interoperability and are on the front lines of efforts to break down barriers like information-blocking that impede progress. They, too, strive to modernize healthcare and their herculean work this past year has greatly helped to propel hospitals and healthcare systems into a new era.
They don't object to the rules, but they need more time. Nov. 2 is the first of many health IT compliance deadlines—including several that fall outside the Cures Act through the CMS payment rules and promoting interoperability program. That is troubling when you consider the additional burden COVID-19 is already placing on providers.
HHS has extended some deadlines; however, it has become clear since the rules were finalized in May that the pandemic will last longer than many projected and the burden on our healthcare system is higher than initially envisioned. Deadlines serve a purpose, but they should not supersede the safety and welfare of patients, physicians and myriad others on the front lines of the COVID-19 battle.
To ensure providers are able to maintain sole focus on managing COVID-19 and facilitate positive patient outcomes, HHS should delay the implementation of all major economic disincentive programs during the current COVID-19 pandemic—and any potential future crises.