Long-Awaited Anti-Information Blocking Penalties Have Arrived

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has just finalized penalties for information blocking, bringing us one step closer to true interoperability. Here's what you need to know about the Final Rule.

Those of us who have been waiting for the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) to add some real teeth to the Anti-Information Blocking regulations laid out in the 21st Century Cures Act have cause to rejoice – the OIG has just finalized penalties, including fines of up to $1 million, for health IT companies found blocking the electronic flow of health information. Enforcement is expected to go into effect later this summer, after the 60-day compliance period (which started on June 27, the day the rule was published) ends.

Why does this matter? Well, last year I wrote a post on Forbes that outlined the fact that if the U.S. government doesn’t decide to enact real, serious fines against organizations that make accessing patient data difficult or impossible, we will never have true interoperability. It all comes down to enforcement, at the end of the day, and this newly published Final Rule is the first time we’ve seen tangible steps towards that.

There are still some areas of concern that bear watching, however, including:

- In describing how it intends to prioritize its info-blocking investigations, the OIG indicates that its criteria are primarily treatment-oriented, with an emphasis on federally backed healthcare organizations. This potentially could leave consumers who request their data at the bottom of the totem pole.

- Similarly, we should keep a close eye on funding for the OIG.  If they’re underfunded, then it will be difficult to allocate the resources to enforce this rule at large.

- Lastly, we should see if organizations that are liable for Info Blocking, such as Health Information Networks, start to enact policies that mandate new Purposes of Use, like Individual Access, into their own Master Services Agreements. Without these updates and requirements, info-blocking actors will have something to hide behind, leaving big gaps in access for individuals across the U.S.

Overall, this penalty announcement is a welcome development, and we’ll see in ~58 days if it results in real progress. Stay tuned....