Viewpoint: Epic's opposition of HHS' interoperability rule threatens health IT innovation


Epic's recent stance against HHS' proposed data sharing rule threatens "the fundamental need for interoperability" in healthcare, according to Kenneth Mandl, MD, and Isaac Kohane, MD.

In a Jan. 27 op-ed for STAT, Drs. Mandl and Kohane argue that Epic is attempting to halt the finalization of HHS' proposed interoperability rule, which would require EHR companies to make their software more interoperable by allowing healthcare providers to share patient data with outside organizations. The rule also supports free patient access to their medical data through third-party apps. 

Dr. Mandl, who serves as director of Boston Children's Hospital's computational health informatics program, and Dr. Kohane, chair of biomedical informatics department at Harvard Medical School, criticized Epic's recent opposition to the interoperability rule. Last week, Epic CEO Judy Faulkner emailed a letter to several of her hospital and health system client CEOs, asking them to oppose the proposed interoperability rule. She also said the company may sue HHS depending on the finalized version of the rules.

By claiming its concerns over the rule are about protecting patient data and privacy, Drs. Mandl and Kohane wrote that Epic "is supporting a meme that patients cannot be trusted to choose their own health apps," according to the report.

"We fully agree that patient protections are needed and have long argued for privacy-preserving patient control of health data," the co-authors wrote. "Here, Epic has taken the position of the fox arguing that chicken wire is a threat to chickens' freedom to walk around."

In a recent op-ed for the Wisconsin State Journal, former HHS Secretary and Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson argued that the new interoperability rules would force Epic to hand over its trade secrets to competitors and "unfairly harm" the state's economy. Drs. Mandl and Kohane point to the article to support their claim that Epic's position against the interoperability rule is monopolistic.

The op-ed co-authors concluded that Epic's opposition of the proposed rule, which is slated for finalization in February, could harm progress made toward universal application programming interfaces and interoperability in healthcare.

"If Epic is allowed to position itself as the only party able to innovate in health IT, then the health information economy should prepare for a recession," Drs. Mandl and Kohane wrote.

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