The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) is delaying the implementation timeline for certain provisions of the 21st Century Cures Act in order to offer more flexibility for healthcare providers dealing with COVID-19, according to a notice set to be published in the Federal Register today.

The notice gives healthcare providers extended timelines to come into compliance with the Cures Act – with a focus on the information blocking provision – and the associated regulations published by ONC. The change to regulations will provide a more permanent solution for health IT stakeholders, who have been relying on ONC’s decision to use regulatory discretion over the last three months.

“These additional flexibilities for development and implementation enable our health care system to focus on addressing the COVID-19 PHE [public health emergency], while still maintaining a trajectory that will advance patients’ access to their health information, reduce the cost of care, and improve the quality of care,” ONC wrote.

For information blocking, the provision was set to come into effect on November 2, but stakeholders noted that this deadline would be difficult with COVID-19 commanding much of their time and resources. Under the new rule, stakeholders would have until April 5, 2021 to ensure that their systems do not block the sharing of electronic health information except where permitted by law.

“We must balance the need to provide actors with more time to address the PHE with the ultimate goal of making [electronic health information] more accessible to improve the cost and quality of care,” ONC noted. “We believe this timeframe appropriately balances the additional flexibility necessary due to the PHE with ONC’s sense of urgency in addressing information blocking.”

Other provisions that are set to be delayed include real-world testing and API standards, but no provision was delayed more than a year. ONC noted its desire to keep as close to the established timeline as possible, stating that the agency “sought to limit the extensions to no longer than reasonably necessary.”

The proposed delays will be open for public comment for 30 days before being finalized.

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MeriTalk Staff