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ONC says the delay is intended to allow providers to focus on the pandemic. It also gives you a chance to prepare for what's coming.

A new information blocking rule that could have a major impact on physical therapy practices and other health care providers is still happening, but providers just got a little breathing room around when they need to start following the requirements: The agency in charge of the rule now says that compliance must begin on April 5, 2021. The previous startup date was Nov. 2 this year.

On Oct. 29, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, or ONC, announced the delay, with ONC spokesperson Dan Rucker explaining in a press release that the extension was made "to allow everyone in the health care ecosystem to focus on the COVID-19 response."

The initial final rule, announced in March, is aimed at removing undue obstacles and delays in the access of patient electronic health information, or EHI. Under the rule, IT developers and health care providers, including PTs, will be required to avoid excessive restrictions on EHI accessibility, exchange, and use — everything from limits on patient access to their data to interoperability problems that make it difficult for providers to share data with each other when needed.

APTA: Use the Extra Time To Get Up-to-Speed

Providers shouldn't think of the delayed startup as a time to put the new rule out of their minds; in fact, it's just the opposite, says Kara Gainer, APTA's director of regulatory affairs.

"The information blocking rule is an entirely new regulatory requirement that could have serious implications for providers, health IT developers, health information networks, and others," Gainer said. "This postponement provides an opportunity to dive into the details of the new rule that require comprehensive understanding."

Resources Are Ready at APTA

APTA's Information Blocking webpage offers multiple resources to help you understand the new rule, including an extensive analysis that provides tips for compliance.

Given that those tips include recommendations to evaluate your practice for potential incompatibilities with the new rule, the later compliance deadline could be a real gift, Gainer said.

"Providers need to be looking at how they currently respond to requests for patient information, their vendor and business associate agreements, what their personnel and operations policies say, and the functionality of their IT systems, because all of these areas and more can come into play with the new rule," she added. "Now's the perfect time to prepare."

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