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With COVID-19 roiling the healthcare system, should stakeholders be expected to meet the interoperability deadlines outlined in the interoperability rules finalized on March 9?

Some say no, given the incredible burdens of crisis. Others say yes, as interoperability is even more important during a crisis. The federal government has acknowledged the merits of the former group’s argument, according to recent statements by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) officials.

The Departments of Health and Human Services’s (HHS) The Cures Act final rule finalized on March 9 was designed to give patients more control in managing their health data. The major provisions of the rule include: allowing patients to access their medical records via a third-party app; requiring the adoption of modern computing standards and APIs by electronic health record companies and issuers; and, limiting information blocking via data exchange.

The timeline of the final rule calls for issuers to implement application programming interfaces (APIs) by January 2021 so that beneficiaries can download claims and encounter data using third-party applications. It also calls for providers to share certain information within six months and all electronic health data within 24 months.

As reported to Modern Healthcare, Ceci Connolly, president and CEO of the Alliance of Community Health Plans said January 2021 was “probably a reasonable deadline” prior to COVID-19. She contends now, “we’re having a hard time seeing how this massive implementation can run on a parallel track with a global pandemic.”

Joel White, executive director of the Health Innovation Alliance, a coalition of issuers, patient groups, trade organizations and technology vendors, agree that asking stakeholders to meet deadlines right now is “a little unrealistic.”

CMS has acknowledged how COVID-19 makes it more difficult for issuers to meet deadlines. Denise St. Clair, a program analyst in the CMS’ health informatics office said in response to whether the deadlines would be pushed back: “We’re in a very, very, very unique situation. We’re definitely thinking through all of the real and incredibly important work that everyone needs to be focusing on right now, so that’s definitely something that’s under consideration.”

Others in the healthcare community disagree and say it is as important as ever to stick to the interoperability deadlines during a crisis. As reported by Healthcare Dive, experts say data sharing during a crisis helps to get a more comprehensive view of confirmed cases, diagnostic test results, and treatments.

Dan Mendelson, founder of healthcare consultancy Avalere Health, said HHS should not delay the deadlines and should even offer funding to expedite meeting the deadlines.



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