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What is “Information Blocking,” and how does it affect behavioral health providers?

Understanding the proper use and disclosure of electronic health information (EHI) can get complicated. Federal laws, including HIPAA and the 21st Century Cures Act, add complicated layers and language.

One concept that can confuse both clinicians and patients in recent years is “information blocking.” Here are the basics that behavioral health providers should know.

Why information blocking matters

The term “information blocking” refers to anything that limits or prevents the sharing or access of EHI between clinicians and patients. It may be deliberate or unintentional.

Some examples of information blocking include:

An EHR system that places a hold on a behavioral health client’s records or progress notes while the clinician decides which EHI is appropriate to include
Providers that restrict EHI access beyond HIPAA and state law
Poor interoperability that prevents providers from sharing EHI with clients or other providers
An IT provider that charges excessive fees to create EHR connections with other health IT

Information blocking can prevent facilities or clinicians from sharing EHI with each other, which can hinder care coordination and lower the quality of care. It can also prevent clients from getting their own health information in a timely manner, preventing them from taking control over their own care.

Who must follow information blocking rules

The Cures Act includes provisions to reduce information blocking, promote interoperability, and improve client EHI access. The Cures Act’s Final Rule applies to anyone with access to EHI, though it aims at healthcare providers, health information networks or exchanges, and health IT developers.

Some of the healthcare providers under the rule include:

Community Mental Health Centers
Practitioners (including physician assistants and nurse practitioners)
Clinical social workers
Clinical psychologists

For the full list, check out this PDF. Any entity that does not comply with the Final Rule could see financial penalties.

Deadlines for information blocking compliance

The deadline to comply with the information blocking provisions was extended to April 5, 2021, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. EHR vendors are working hard to update their products to support the access, exchange, and use of all data elements.

Here’s where it gets more complicated. For 24 months after the Final Rule was published in the Federal Register on May 1, 2020, it only covers data that is defined within the USCDI v1.0 standard, a set of interoperability standards for nationwide health information exchanges. After those 24 months, the Final Rule covers any electronic protected health information as defined by HIPAA, regardless of whether the records involve a covered entity.

A few other deadlines include:

December 31, 2022: This is the deadline for the 2015 edition of health IT certification criteria updates and new standardized functionalities.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, compliance dates and timeframes were revised to three months after each initial compliance date or timeline identified in the Final Rule.

If you aren’t sure about how the Cures Act applies to your behavioral health practice, contact your EHR vendor. They can discuss how this will affect your software and what changes, if any, are needed. You may also want to consult with a legal expert who specializes in healthcare.

When regulatory changes affect your behavioral health practice, your EHR system should take the headache out of compliance. The BestNotes EHR solution receives regular, automatic updates that comply with federal and state changes, so users are confident that their software follows the highest clinical and regulatory standards. Contact us today to learn more or to schedule a free demo.

date:  Jul 09, 2021
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