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Federal requirements for sharing patient medical records pose challenges, opportunities

Only 18% of the executives surveyed at U.S. healthcare companies say they are "very familiar" with new regulations.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

Most technology executives polled in the U.S. are relatively unfamiliar with a key federal law requiring greater patient access to healthcare records and the interoperability of such records across health networks, according to new research findings from Accenture.

A centerpiece of the 21st Century Cures Act, which became law as H.R. 34 in 2016, are new regulations designed to help drive increased efficiency and transparency in healthcare through a variety of measures, including preventing information blocking and expanding how patients can access their healthcare information. Organizations that do not comply with the new regulations -- which apply to essentially any organization handling patient medical records -- could face substantial penalties.

Fewer than one in five (18%) of the executives surveyed in key leadership positions at U.S. healthcare companies said they are "very familiar" with the new regulations, while 17% said they are completely unaware of it. Around 53% said they are "somewhat familiar" with 12% "vaguely familiar."

Healthcare payers appear somewhat better informed and prepared for the new regulations than do providers. Specifically, 26% of payers surveyed said they are "very familiar" with the regulations, compared to 16% of providers. Similarly, 26% of payers believe their organization is "very prepared," compared to only 5% of providers who share that view.

Overall, 40% of those polled believe the requirements will have little or no impact on the IT operations of their organization, and 30% see little impact on their organization's ability to meet the needs of their patients and customers.

WHAT'S THE IMPACT

As a result of the findings, Accenture recommends healthcare providers, insurance companies and other health organizations handling patient medical records become well-versed in the upcoming rules.

The development of compliance plans and preparations needed to reach compliance in 2020 should be a priority. Beyond basic compliance objectives, there's a growing opportunity to explore and prioritize ideas to use the new regulatory framework to improve services and value to their customers -- patients, insurance plan members, Medicaid beneficiaries, partner agencies and programs.

Specifically, healthcare organizations lagging in awareness and preparedness need to ensure their technology and compliance leadership are familiar with the new rules; assess and analyze their organization's current interoperability provisions; complete gap analyses and develop remediation plans for a 12-18 month timeframe; and manage communications -- internally and externally -- to help healthcare professionals and consumers adapt to the new rules.

THE LARGER TREND

Earlier this year, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions released a number of sweeping proposals in the Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019. Among other things, the bill would give patients full, electronic access to their own health claims information and ensure that the Department of Health and Human Services successfully implements interoperability provisions of the 21st Century Cures Act.

Twitter: @JELagasse

Email the writer: jeff.lagasse@himssmedia.com