The 21st Century Cures Act: Shaping the Future of Information Access in Healthcare

Updated on January 30, 2023
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Unlocking the Power of Healthcare Information

Information is the lifeblood of the healthcare industry. For decades, hospitals and physicians have counted on charts, treatment plans and other records to do their jobs better. It is unrestricted access to holistic data that allows healthcare providers to streamline cumbersome record-keeping, reduce costs, and better collaborate as treatment teams to advance patient care. And the rise of digital information and Electronic Health Records (EHR) have only accelerated its importance.

 It’s currently estimated 30 percent of the world’s data is being generated in healthcare – a number that will reach a CAGR of 36 percent by 2025. It’s also estimated by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) at almost 90 percent of office-based physicians currently leverage EHR systems. But information availability is only part of the solution. Data accessibility and interoperability is another.

When access to information is restricted, it can challenge the ability of hospitals and treatment teams to do their jobs. Ultimately, this can lead to poor clinical communication and collaboration – reducing the quality of patient care and driving costs upward. Seamless communications are also increasingly important world of team-based healthcare as patients attempt to navigate doctor’s offices, hospitals, and other care facilities. Unfortunately, interoperability and access to information isn’t easy. 

Information Blocking – What it Means for Patient Care

In most cases, this information blocking is caused by use of proprietary technology systems unable to interoperate with one another. This information blocking can directly interfere with the timely and accurate exchange of patient information. The fact is most electronic data is still locked in silos across disparate providers. In fact, nearly 75 percent of physicians in a new survey feel they lack sufficient information about their patients. The demand for seamless access to healthcare information is one of the driving forces behind the 21st Century Cures Act – which expanded its scope in October. 

The Power of Data to Improve Patient Care – The 21st Century Cures Act

Healthcare providers can dramatically improve patient care with access to data. That’s why many are asking the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for clarity on new federal information blocking regulations set in motion in October. 

The original 21st Century Cures Act required health IT vendors, providers, and health information exchanges to better provide patient access to health records with 3rd party applications – banning the blocking of health information sharing. But this applied only to a limited set of data. Under the expanded regulations, patients will get electronic access to their records without limitations. So, what do providers and patients need to know -and how can they better align for these new regulations?

Facing the Challenges of Expanded Regulations

The biggest roadblock to implementing these new rules is the lack of technical infrastructure to support information exchange. There’s little clarity on removing interoperability barriers of proprietary systems.  This requires a technical infrastructure capable of breaking down silos across disparate systems and sharing electronic records in a way that maintains compliance and privacy. Unfortunately, the industry is still working towards bringing these systems together in a meaningful way. 

In addition, the industry also needs clarity on what does and does not constitute an information sharing rule violation. Additionally, there’s very little insight on what type of information blocking is and is not allowable – and determining exceptions to the rule. 

And while there are many unanswered questions in the expanded 21st Century Cures Act, it also opens opportunities for patients and providers. Based on the growing volume of unstructured and structured electronic healthcare information, unrestricted access to this data is not only helpful, but also critical to seamless clinical communications and collaboration. The next step is understanding the full impact of expanded regulations, building an integrated electronic information sharing strategy, and preparing for regulations yet to come.  

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Dr. Andrew A. Brooks

Andrew A. Brooks, M.D., is a fellowship-trained, board-certified orthopedic surgeon. He currently serves as the chief medical officer at TigerConnect, a company he co-founded in 2010 to revolutionize healthcare workflow and productivity. He has authored numerous peer-reviewed articles and book chapters in his field of interest. In addition to his work at TigerConnect, Dr. Brooks is also a managing partner for 111 West Capital; his primary focus is early-stage healthcare software businesses. Dr. Brooks is board-certified by the American Board of Orthopedic Surgery and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. He received his Bachelor of Science and Doctor of Medicine degrees from the University of Southern California.