Epic, Cerner & 5 more health IT stakeholders react to HHS' interoperability rule 

Epic, Cerner, Microsoft and other prominent health IT companies and executives are speaking up about HHS' proposed interoperability rule ahead of its anticipated finalization next month.

The regulations, which were issued by CMS and ONC last year to support the MyHealthEData and 21st Century Cures Act, would require the health IT industry to adopt application programming interfaces to help patients more easily access their health data. The rule would also prohibit healthcare organizations from employing information blocking practices.

The rule is currently under review by the Office of Management and Budget and is expected to be finalized in February.

Here are reactions from seven health IT companies and executives about the rules: 

1. Epic. The EHR giant has voiced its opposition of the proposed rule, citing privacy concerns relating to third-party use of patient data. The company released a statement on Jan. 27 saying that while it supports HHS' effort to improve data sharing for patients, the rule presents "serious risks to patient privacy."

Earlier this month, Epic CEO Judy Faulkner sent emails to some of the company's largest U.S. hospital clients, urging them to voice their opposition of the proposed interoperability rules. Ms. Faulkner also said Epic may consider suing HHS if the finalized version of the interoperability rule does not support adequate safety regulations.

2. Cerner. Epic's largest EHR competitor appears to be in favor of the rule. Cerner CEO Brent Shafer on Jan. 27 tweeted the following statement about ONC's proposed information blocking rule: "Let me be abundantly clear: [Cerner] embraces interoperability and the flow of information across disparate systems and healthcare entities. We fully support the proposed rule and the rulemaking process."

Cerner is also a member of the CARIN Alliance, a multi-sector alliance that aims to work with the government to overhaul barriers to consumer-directed data exchange. Representatives from the EHR vendor reportedly attended the organization's Jan. 27 event to discuss initiatives to give patients more access to their health data.

3. CARIN Alliance. The organization, which comprises more than 85 members including Google, Apple and Microsoft, met with OMB on Jan. 27 to discuss HHS' proposed rules. In its key request, the alliance asked the federal government to finalize and release the rules immediately.

"Although we may slightly differ in the specific details regarding how the proposed rules should be implemented, we are united regarding consumer access sections of the two proposed rules and in our belief that both proposed rules should be finalized and released immediately," the alliance said in a statement.

4. Microsoft Healthcare. Peter Lee, corporate vice president of Microsoft Healthcare, said the technology giant endorses the proposed rules, adding that the regulations "are correct because they're based on modern data standards."

5. Tommy Thompson. The former HHS secretary and Wisconsin governor argued that the proposed interoperability rule would force Epic to hand over its trade secrets to competitors and "unfairly harm" the state's economy, according to a Jan. 10 op-ed he wrote for the Wisconsin State Journal.

6. Aneesh Chopra. In response to Epic CEO Judy Faulkner's emailed letter to hospital and health system execs, the former White House CTO told CNBC it was "unfortunate to see this much effort placed at stalling the important, bipartisan progress we have made to open up health information — at a minimum to consumers and institutions they trust."

7. Stephanie Reel. CIO of Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins University and Health System and a member of ONC's Health IT Policy Committee’s Information Exchange Workgroup told Becker's Hospital Review: "We are committed and continue to be focused on interoperability, and we are also focused on privacy and confidentiality of the patient information and protection of all of our information assets. It is one of the most challenging times as we think about the right balance in each of these areas. The angst that I feel about the recent interoperability conversation is around the risk to innovation. I think we need to find a balance that allows us to protect each individual patient, wisely leverage our data assets, while being equally cautious about the protection of intellectual property.

I worry a bit about too much control or reluctance to expand our thinking in an innovative way. The next big discovery will come from the very creative and innovative use of technology and information. I don't want us to err on the side of being too careful and too controlling because I think there is some risk that we will not make that next big discovery or cure that dreadful form of cancer." 

Editor's note: This article was updated at 8:30 a.m. CT on Jan. 29. 

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