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Study: “Information Blocking” By Vendors And Providers Persists

Posted on April 6, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

A newly-released study suggests that both EHR vendors and providers may still be interfering with the free exchange of patient healthcare data. The researchers concluded that despite the hearty disapproval of both Congress and healthcare providers, the two still consider “information blocking” to be in their financial interest.

To conduct the study, which appears in this month’s issue of The Milbank Quarterly, researchers conducted a national survey between October 2015 and January 2015. Researchers reached out to leaders driving HIE efforts among provider organizations. The study focused on how often information blocking took place, what forms it took and how effective various policy strategies might be at stopping the practice.

It certainly seems that the practice continues to be a major issue of concern to HIE leaders. Eighty-three percent of respondents said they were very familiar with information blocking, while just 12 percent reported having just some familiarity with the practice and 5 percent said they had minimal familiarity. On average, the respondents offered a good cross-industry view, having worked with 18 EHR vendors and with 31 hospitals or health systems on average.

Forms of Blocking:

If the research is accurate, information blocking is a widespread and persistent problem.

When questioned about specific forms of information by EHR vendors, 29 percent of respondents said that vendors often or routinely roll out products with limited interoperability capabilities. Meanwhile, 47 percent said that vendors routinely or often charge high fees for sharing data across HIEs, and 42 percent said that the vendors routinely or often make third-party access to standardized data harder than it needs to be. (For some reason, the study didn’t mention what types of information blocking providers have instituted.)

Frequency of blocking:

It’s hardly surprising that most of the respondents were familiar with information blocking issues, given how often the issue comes up.

In fact, a full fifty percent said that EHR vendors routinely engaged in information blocking, 33 percent said that the vendors blocked information occasionally, with only 17 percent stating that EHR vendors rarely did so.

Interestingly, the HIE managers said that providers were also engaged in information blocking, though fewer did so than among the vendor community. Twenty-five percent reported that providers routinely engage in information blocking, and 34 percent saying that providers did so occasionally. Meanwhile, 41 percent said information blocking by providers was rare.

Motivations for blocking:

Why do HIE participants block the flow of health data? It seems that at present they get something important out of it, and unless somebody stops them it makes sense to continue.

When it came to EHR vendors, the respondents felt that their motivations included a desire to maximize short-term revenue, with 41 percent reporting that this was a routine motivation and 28 percent that it was an occasional motivation. They also felt EHR vendors blocked information to improve the chances that providers would choose their platform over competing products, with 44 percent of respondents saying this was routine and 11 percent that it was occasional.

Meanwhile, they believed that hospitals and health systems, the most common motivation was to improve revenue by strengthening their competitive advantage, with 47 percent seeing this as routine and 30 percent occasional. Also, respondents said providers wanted to accommodate priorities other than data exchange, with 29 percent seeing this as routine and 31 percent occasional.

Solutions:

So what can be done about vendor and provider information blocking? There are a number of ways policymakers can get involved, but few have done so as of yet.

When given a choice of policy-based strategies, 67 percent said that making this practice illegal would be very effective. Meanwhile, respondents said that three strategies would be very or moderately effective. They included prohibiting gag clauses and encouraging public reporting and comparisons of vendors and their products (93 percent); requiring stronger demonstrations of product interoperability (92 percent) and national policies defining policies and standards for core aspects of information exchange.

Meanwhile, when it came to reducing information blocking by providers, respondents recommended that CMS roll out stronger incentives for care coordination and risk-based contracts (97 percent) and public reporting or other efforts shining a spotlight on provider business practices (93 providers).

Are We Waiting For An Interoperability Miracle?

Posted on December 12, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

Today, in reading over some industry news, my eyes settled on an advertising headline that gave me pause: “Is Middleware The Next Interoperability Miracle?”  Now, I have to admit a couple things: 1) that vendors have to pitch the latest white paper with all the fervor they can command, and 2) that it never hurts to provoke conversation with a strong assertion. But seeing a professional advertisement include the word “miracle” — an expostulatory term which you might use to sell dishwashers — still took me back a bit.

And then I began to think about what I had seen. I wondered whether it will really take a miracle to achieve health data interoperability sometime in our lifetime. I asked myself whether health IT insiders like you, dear readers, are actually that discouraged. And I wondered if any vendor truly believes that they can produce such a miracle, if indeed one is needed.

First, let’s ask ourselves about whether we need a Hail Mary pass or even a miracle to salvage industry hopes for data interoperability. I’m afraid that in my view, the answer is quite possibly yes. In saying this, I’m assuming that interoperability must arrive soon to meet our current needs, at least within the next several years.

Unfortunately, nothing I’ve seen suggests that we can realistically achieve robust interoperability within the next say, 5 to 10 years, despite all appearances to the contrary. I know some readers may disagree with me, but as I see it the combination of technical and behavioral obstacles to interoperability are just too profound to be addressed in a timely manner.

Okay, then, on to whether health IT rank and file are so burned out on interoperability efforts that they just want the problem taken off of their hands. If they did, I would certainly sympathize, as the forces in play here are beyond the control of any individual IT staffer, consultant, hospital or health system. The forces holding back interoperability are interwoven with technical, financial, policy and operational issues which can’t be addressed without a high level of cooperation between competing entities — and perhaps not even then.

So, back to where we started. Headline aside, does the vendor in question or any other truly believe that they can engineer a solution to such an intractable problem, conquer world interoperability issues and grow richer than Scrooge McDuck? Probably not. Interoperability is a set of behaviors as much as a technology, and I doubt even the cockiest startup thinks it can capture that many hearts and minds.

Ultimately, though, whoever wrote that headline is probably keying into something real. While the people doing the hard work of attempting health data sharing aren’t exactly desperate, I think there’s a growing sense that we’re running out of time to get this thing done. Obviously, other than artificial ones imposed by laws and regulations, we aren’t facing any actual deadline, but things can’t go on like this forever.

In fact, I’d argue that if we don’t create a useful interoperability model soon, a window of opportunity for doing so will be lost for quite some time. After all, we can’t keep spending on this infrastructure if it’s never going to offer a payback.

The cold reality is that eventually, the data sharing system we have — such as it is — will fall apart of its own weight, as organizations simply stop paying for their part of it. So while we might not need a miracle as such, being granted one wouldn’t hurt. If this effort fails us, who knows when we’ll have the time and money to try again.

Comprehensive Patient View, Social Media Time, and Linking Millions of EMR

Posted on August 10, 2014 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.


You don’t really need to click on the link above. The answer is no. The answer is that it probably won’t ever happen. There are just too many source systems where our health data is stored and it’s getting more complicated, not less.


If the social media maven Mandi has a challenge getting her social media on, now you can understand why many others “don’t have the time.” It takes a commitment and many don’t want to make that commitment. It doesn’t make them bad people. We all only have so many hours in a day.


No need to read this link either. Although, I found it great that they described the challenge as linking millions of EMR. Let’s be generous and say there are 700 EHR vendors. Unfortunately, that doesn’t describe what it takes to make EMR interoperable. To use a cliche phrase, if you’ve connected with one Epic installation, you’ve connected with one Epic installation. I know it’s getting better, but it’s not there. If you want interoperable EMR data, you need to connect a lot of different installs.

CCD As the EMR Interoperability Standard

Posted on March 6, 2010 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

In one of my many discussions with people at HIMSS 10 we started talking about EHR interoperability standards. The person I was talking to worked as an engineer for a vendor that’s entire work is interoperability of EHR data. As we talked, I made the comment that it seems like CCD has won the battle for EMR interoperability. He gave me a kind of blank stare and said, yeah. Basically his response was like yeah everyone knows that. Almost as if there weren’t any other real EMR interoperability options out there. Well, I guess someone better let Google Health know too.

As I went through the HIMSS showroom floor, I got the same feeling.

The good thing is that I think the people behind CCR are satisfied with this result since CCD is a derivative of sorts from CCR.

Interoperability Showcase at HIMSS 10

Posted on March 1, 2010 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

The interoperability showcase is a really interesting part of HIMSS. They have 80 organizations and vendors that are participating in a wide variety of interoperability scenarios. It’s such a great idea to bring these vendors together to show interoperable EMR.

The problem I have with this concept is that they had the same showcase at HIMSS 09, no? Have we seen any real progress towards interoperability? I guess the question is a bit open for debate, but I can’t say that I’ve seen any huge progress towards interoperability since the last showcase. Is that because there are political and funding issues that are blocking the interoperability from happening?

I guess the point is that the interoperability showcase seems to show that interoperability is possible from a technical standpoint, but it must be something else that’s stopping its success.

Does that mean that we’re focusing on the wrong problem (the technical) when it comes to EMR Interoperability?

EMR Features with the Most Potential

Posted on December 14, 2009 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

“Physician order entry and decision support I believe offer the most chance of improving healthcare delivery. There are a lot of information systems with bells and whistles that don’t focus on physicians’ real needs.” – Neil R. Powe, MD, MPH, MBA, Chief of Medical Services, San Francisco General Hospital source

I previously posted about the benefits of EMR interoperability. The above quote touts Physician order entry and clinical decision support as the most likely to improve healthcare. Are these the three most promising features of an EMR or is there something they’re missing? What’s the killer feature of an EMR that will make every doctor implement an EMR whether they like it or not?

Benefits from EMR Come from Interoperability

Posted on December 10, 2009 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

“Looking for savings in hospitals that use EMRs is short-sighted. The real payday for use of EMRs will come with interoperability. Measurable savings will be realized as middleware is installed that will allow for the electronic transmission and translation of patient records across different proprietary systems between delivery networks.” – Jim Lott, Executive Vice President, Hospital Council of Southern California, Los Angeles source

“EMRs don’t save money in standalone situations. However, EMRs will absolutely save significant money (and improve care and safety) when connected and sharing clinical information.” Johnny Walker, MBA, CPA, Founder and past CEO of Patient Safety Institute, Plano, Texas source

These two quote remind me a lot of my previous post about the real long term benefits of EMR. Interoperability is one of those benefits that we won’t see right away. In fact, we’ll see little benefit from them until we hit a critical mass of EMR implementations that it’s almost futile to share information between EMR software. Kaiser and the VA are always held up as examples of successful EMR implementations and one of the main reasons for that is that they have such broad EMR adoption that they can share the clinical information across all of their clinics.

So, YES! there is a real benefit to EMR adoption long term and it comes dressed in the name “EMR data sharing.” However, it’s worth pointing out that this doesn’t diminish the very important more quickly seen EMR benefits.

Problems with ARRA EMR Stimulus Money

Posted on November 16, 2009 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

I recently read a Healthcare IT article that talks about some of the challenges with the EMR stimulus money. Here’s a couple of the challenges discussed with my commentary.

Albert L. Strunk, MD, representing the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said ACOG is concerned that the measures, while clinical in nature, are not related to adoption of electronic medical records. “The meaningful use measures for ARRA should determine whether a physician has met the objectives shown in the meaningful use matrix, not whether the EMR is being used to report clinical quality measures that rarely apply to that physician’s patients,” he said.

I think this is an interesting analysis. Clinical quality measures are one of the main goals of having an EMR. However, very few doctors look at it that way. I think they will get the incentives wrong if they focus on the clinical quality measures and not on the features of an EMR that benefit the doctor. I’m still sticking with my original analysis that the government really wants doctors to have an EMR so they can improve the Medicare reimbursement rates (in their favor of course).

Another section about interoperable EMR software:

Experts at the hearing testified that providers are willing to wait to purchase a HIT system until they know it will be interoperable. They said physicians from small practices often interact with more than five community hospitals and several labs, each with a different system. Doctors need to know that whatever electronic health record they buy will work with the systems the labs and hospitals have.

I don’t personally get the feeling that most doctors care about interoperability when making their EMR selection. Ok, let me clarify. They want it to connect with their lab and hospital. However, most don’t worry about it interacting with other doctors offices in a true interoperable fashion. The problem is that interoperability between a doctors office and hospitals/labs is not the same as what most people consider an interoperable EMR. I’m talking about EMR software talking to other EMR software (or an RHIO or HIE). Most doctors don’t care about this. At least not more than all the other financial issues related to EMR.

Healthcare Data Sharing in EMR Software

Posted on September 15, 2009 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Healthcare data sharing is one of the hottest topics when talking about the importance of EMR software. Some people call it healthcare data portability. One of the problems I have with these discussions is that everyone has different goals for why they want to share the information. Here’s a partial list of reasons people may want to share healthcare data between various EMR respositories (in no particular order):

  • Clinical data sharing for reimbursement purposes
  • Quality data sharing for broader research goals
  • Quality data sharing to meet ARRA requirements/reimbursement
  • Data shared for continuity of care between providers

There are probably other reasons to have EMR software be able to share clinical data. However, you get the basic point. There are a lot of reasons why people want the ability to share healthcare related data from an EMR. One problem in the discussion of EMR data portability is that the conversation often gets convoluted when clear lines aren’t drawn for why the EMR data is being shared. Kind of reminds me of what it’s like to discuss EMR and not differentiate between a hospital EMR and ambulatory EMR. There are important similarities, but there are also important differences which always seem to confuse the discussion.

Free Health Information Exchange – HIE

Posted on August 31, 2009 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

One of my readers pointed out that NaviNet was offering their Health Information Exchange (HIE) solution to state governments for free. Here’s a short part of the press release:

NaviNet (formerly NaviMedix), America’s largest real-time healthcare communications network, today announced the NaviNet Health Information Exchange (HIE), a solution that combines the NaviNet Provider Network of more than 770,000 providers nationwide, and NaviNet technology and services. The NaviNet HIE is now available to all state governments and U.S. territories at no cost, enabling more efficient implementation and expansion of local health data exchange. Adoption of NaviNet HIE minimizes technology investment requirements, providing states and territories a rapid and cost-effective way to offer their own branded health information exchange to electronically connect physicians, hospitals, insurers and existing HIEs in their regions. NaviNet is already used by two out of every three U.S. healthcare providers, and leading national, commercial and Blues health plans, resulting in significant costs savings to the industry.

I always find it interesting when someone starts offering something for free. I always have to ask myself the question of why they would offer it for free. I don’t know NaviNet that well, but it seems like this free offering is 2 fold. First, it seems like they probably want to sell the HIE to people other than government. Second, I think that they probably want participants in the HIE to also use NaviNet’s billing services.

What’s really interesting to me also is that it seems like NaviNet is basically a billing company (although, I don’t know them that well). I find this really interesting since I’ve often seen the argument that we’ve been exchanging billing information electronically in healthcare for a while. Since this is the case, many people have wondered why we couldn’t also exchange other healthcare information. Is this offering from NaviNet, the realization of this principle?

Free EMR has been going well for a while. We’ll see how Free HIE goes.