For all the Chicken Littles out there preaching to you that the sky is falling & you must immediately do this & buy that, my response is a simple “No!” Don’t buy into the hype & begin spending money unnecessarily.
First of all, the goal is to ensure that your patients have timely access to all the data (e.g. medical & billing) which currently resides in your computer system.
So, given all the misinformation swirling about, I’d like to draw your attention to this Information Blocking FAQ from HealthIT.gov. You don’t need to read through most of the dense language either. Let’s pay attention to some key items.
- Do these rules apply to you as a healthcare provider (“Actor”)? Absolutely, regardless of whether or not you use certified technology (like ECLIPSE Spectrum) in your office.
- Are you required to immediately release lab [or other] results through a patient portal or other interface? No. You must however — once data is requested — provide it in a timely manner. Unreasonable delays in making this information available may be construed as “Information Blocking” (“Interference”).
- Are there exceptions to the Information Blocking rule? Yes. See this FAQ for more information.
So, let’s simplify the above even further. If you don’t use certified technology like ECLIPSE Spectrum with a portal option, and a patient wants to access lab results at 3am on Sunday morning, are you guilty of information blocking? Well, once the patient contacts your office, you should handle the request via the methods available to you (e.g. email, which is HIPAA compliant) within 24-48 hours during normal business hours. Use your discretion.
Here’s a direct quote from the HealthIT.gov FAQ above:
“Again, the information blocking regulations do not require the use of any specific standard or functionality. Instead, the “Content and Manner” exception (45 CFR 171.301) outlines a process by which an actor may prioritize the use of standards in fulfilling a request for EHI in a manner that supports and prioritizes the interoperability of the data.”
And you can examine the Content And Manner exception here. This exception provides — in order — the various ways in which you (remember, you’re an “Actor”) must make information available to your patients. The important wording here is
“unless the actor is technically unable to fulfill the request”
Thus, if you’re not using certified technology, you must use an “Alternative manner,” defined above as “any manner requested because it is technically unable to fulfill the request or cannot reach agreeable terms with the requestor to fulfill the request.”
Thus, if the info is in your system, you must (again, see the exceptions) provide it to patients both electronically and in a timely manner. If the information is not stored electronically, the patient can come into your office for it, or you can mail it (as you likely did in the past).
Technology is moving ahead rapidly. And the government wants health information to be available everywhere without fuss. Of course, when your patient can access it on their own, it’s easier for both of you. But, there’s no requirement that you run out & spend money right now to ensure your patients get information this second, as opposed to… later today.