Electronic Health Records

Integration & Interoperability News

OIG Warns EHR Users of Information Blocking Consequences

By Sara Heath

As a part of National Health IT Week, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) has released a special report reminding industry stakeholders of information blocking and the federal anti-kickback statute relative to EHR adoption and use.

OIG warns EHR users of information blocking consequences for EHR interoperability

According to a statement written by Inspector General Daniel Levinson, health IT needs to be utilized for the potential benefits it has for the industry rather than for information blocking and other fraudulent purposes. Levinson states that in the wake of recent health IT innovations, it is important to understand how information blocking and healthcare fraud play into the health IT industry.

According to Levinson, OIG has created an EHR safe harbor for EHR systems donations. This means that under certain donation parameters, donors and providers would not be liable to the anti-kickback statute. This policy is intended to foster EHR adoption and innovation, allowing more providers to reap the technology’s benefits.

“OIG has long supported the Department’s goal of promoting the adoption of electronic health record (EHR) technology,” Levinson writes on HealthITBuzz. “To this end, our office created and then extended a safe harbor to the Federal anti-kickback statute for certain arrangements involving donations of EHR items and services to potential referral sources (the EHR safe harbor). Donations that fit squarely within all of the EHR safe harbor’s conditions are not subject to sanctions under the Federal anti-kickback statute.”

That said, Levinson explains that providers or donors who engage in information blocking breach one of the conditions of the EHR safe harbor, thus violating the anti-kickback statute.

f a donor, or someone on the donor’s behalf, takes any action to limit or restrict the use, compatibility, or interoperability of the donated items or services with other electronic prescribing or EHR systems, the donation arrangement would not receive safe harbor protection and would be suspect under the Federal anti-kickback statute,” wrote Levinson.

Information blocking poses a threat to the benefits of EHRs and health IT. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) describes information blocking as the intentional and unreasonable blocking of health information among health IT systems. This practice does not include the blocking of information for health data privacy reasons or because of reasonable barriers.

Oftentimes, information blocking stems from health IT developers. According to ONC, these developers may charge a large fee for exchanging the information, financially blocking a customer from using the EHR, or they may charge a fee for installing interfaces that would make the information stored on the EHR useable.

However, ONC notes that sometimes information blocking may occur at the practitioner level. In some cases, providers may block information in order to control referrals and create a health market dominance.

Information blocking is a destructive practice in the health IT industry because it prevents one of the most important purposes for EHRs -- increased interoperability. As such, OIG urges individuals with knowledge of information blocking or other fraudulent activities in the healthcare industry to contact the agency with information.