ONC Interoperability Rule Medical Providers Should Know

July 18th, 2022 /
Vikram Maindan
/ 5 Min Read

In the digital landscape that is the modern healthcare environment, electronic health information (EHI) simplifies maintaining patient information. The ONC interoperability rule is designed to make exchanging patient data even more simple for both clinicians and patients. The new rule is meant to better coordinate care, enhance patient trust, and support quality care outcomes. However, providers may have to make adjustments to remain compliant as the new rules take effect.  

As a provider, knowing how the new ONC interoperability rule affects your practice and how to prepare will be important. Below is a closer look at what to expect and how to prepare for the changes in your organization.  

What Is the ONC Interoperability Rule?  

The ONC interoperability rule was created by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Initially, the 21st Century Cures Act, often referred to as the ONC Cures Act, was passed by Congress in 2016. This was designed in part to support the access, use and exchange of electronic health data. 

The ONC Cures Act Final Rule was published in 2020 and added additional provisions to the Cures Act. The provisions were specifically for the purpose of promoting patient information control via application programming interfaces (APIs). With APIs, patients can use mobile devices or computer apps to retrieve their own health information from provider-used EHR (electronic health record) systems.  

In addition, the ONC interoperability rule lays the groundwork for regulations regarding information blocking. When it comes to information blocking healthcare organizations have to show just cause as to why they must protect sensitive patient data relative to care.  

Why Is the ONC Interoperability Rule Important?  

ONC interoperability regulations are incredibly important to both clinicians and patients. The latest provisions, on the surface, will make EHI easier for patients to access. This places the freedom to retrieve health records in the hands of the patient without that patient having to rely on their provider to make that information available to them. This makes healthcare information more transparent for patients, which can support their own decisions about care.  

Providers will also benefit from the interoperability rule. They will be able to elevate their overall technological infrastructure, increase productivity, and even gain a competitive advantage in the broader healthcare marketplace. The ONC info blocking rule also enforces transparency where patient information is concerned. This means an added layer of accountability will deter issues with monetary penalties for not remaining compliant.  

What the Rule Means for Providers and Its Impact on Health Care Providers  

Medical practitioner

The ONC interoperability rule will simplify a few aspects of care for clinicians. One, providers won’t have to put forth effort when a patient needs access to their own EHI record other than initially making that information accessible. This means fewer in-office hours allocated to getting patient records together as they are requested. 

Two, clinicians can improve the safety of patients because the new efforts will afford more accurate data cross-reference in the health information exchange. For example, a patient moving through a series of care providers will have an electronic health record that essentially follows them wherever they go.  

Tips and Reminders About the ONC Interoperability Rule  

ONC Interoperability Rule vs Meaningful Use  

Even though the new rule is meant to be used with CMS, the new interoperability rule is not the same thing as meaningful use. In terms of CMS, meaningful use means that you are using the right EHR technology to enable the exchange of EHI. However, the ONC interoperability rule takes things a few steps further.  

Are You Information Blocking?  

Accidentally information blocking simply because you are using the wrong technology can lead to monetary penalties and a wealth of problems. A major part of the new rule aims to get rid of practices that make it too challenging for patients to gain access to health information. This is one reason why it will be so important for providers to make sure their current EHR system is built to comply with the new standards.  

HIPAA Compliance  

Currently, a HIPAA-covered entity must permit access to a patient’s health data to the patient except under specific circumstances. For example, psychotherapy notes may be excluded from the rule that patient records must be released upon request. It is important to get familiar with the HIPAA-defined terminology regarding what patient information is and is not subject to the new rules.  

Interoperability Compliance Dates  

The new ONC interoperability rule is set to begin on October 6th, 2022. This means that all primary stakeholders within an organization should be sharing all EHI by this date, even if the data available is not totally structured just yet.  

Five Reasons You May Not Be Ready for the ONC Rule  

Medical Practitioner not ready for the ONC Rule

If you are concerned about whether your organization is ready for the ONC rule, consider the following questions: 

  • Do you understand what the rule asks of you as a care provider?
  • Do you know what your organization needs to do to ensure compliance? 
  • Is your organization practicing interoperability to prepare for compliance? 
  • Are you inadvertently information blocking? 
  • Have you checked to ensure your EHR system will comply with the upcoming regulations? 

Be Sure Your Current EHR System Is Set to Comply 

Without question, the new ONC interoperability rule will set the framework for a more continuous provision of care. However, it is incredibly important that medical care providers are on board with the changes when it comes to their health technology. If you haven’t done so already, reach out to your EHR vendor, discuss the impending changes and how the system will change to comply.  

Need a new EHR system that you are sure will be compliant with interoperability rules? Reach out to PrognoCIS to find out more.

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