CMS and ONC Release Final Interoperability and Information Blocking Regulations: What Do They Mean for the Public Health Community? 

April 21, 2020

Altarum’s interoperability standards analyst Craig Newman, co-chair of the HL7 Public Health Work Group, explained during a recent webinar for HL7 members the significance of the new CMS and ONC rules on interoperability and information blocking for the public health community. In early March, the ONC and CMS issued finalized language for these rules, part of the 21st Century Cures Act, which hold public and private organizations accountable for enabling easy electronic access to health records.

How do these rules impact public health? Below are the key points:

  • Community-based providers and organizations would not typically be expected to be bound by the new information-blocking rules. However, it’s unclear if certain public health programs, such as immunization registries, would fall under the information blocking rules. Altarum is requesting additional clarification on this point.
  • The availability of standardized FHIR APIs offers the potential for new ways for public health to query for additional data beyond the initial reporting, which may be helpful for analysis and follow-up. However, there are some complex data security and access issues that will need to be worked out before the APIs can be used.
  • Developers must perform real world testing and inclusion of public health experts is recommended. This is good in theory, but it is unfunded and so could become a drain on resources.
  • The standards advancement program will allow health IT developers to voluntarily have their products certified to newer, ONC-approved versions which will require careful communication between trading partners to ensure that all parties are prepared to support new standards as they emerge and are adopted.
  • The Covid-19 crisis underscores the importance of such reporting, but the rules don’t necessarily address local state reporting requirements for public health, which drive implementers to support public health standards.

HHS is delaying enforcement of these new rules for six months to give providers more time to comply with them. In the meantime, you can learn more about their implications for public health in the video below.

Altarum is a nonprofit organization that works with federal and state agencies and foundations to design and implement solutions to improve the health of individuals with fewer financial resources and populations disenfranchised by the health care system. We achieve measurable results by combining our expertise in public health and health care delivery with technology, workforce training and continuing education, applied research, and technical assistance. Our innovative solutions lead to better health for beneficiaries and better value for payers.