The New Interoperability Rule and COVID-19: Links, Impacts, and Why It Matters

Healthcare, Regulatory News

March 30th, 2020

The new interoperability rule and COVID-19 have brought much stress to the healthcare industry. Find out why interoperability matters even more now.

interoperability rule and COVID-19

March has been a tumultuous time in healthcare. The new interoperability rule and COVID-19 will be forever connected. Not just because they defined the healthcare space in 2020, but also because of this pandemic shines a bright light on the problems with healthcare data interoperability. As the entire healthcare ecosystem comes together with challenges and solutions related to both, it’s an ideal time to look at the parallels of these events.

The Pandemic and the Patient

interoperability rule data sharing

When faced with the possibility of risks related to becoming infected by the coronavirus, patients want to know the risks. Allowing them easy and unobstructed access to the medical history would help. That’s the central objective of the interoperability rule. 

Patients have questions and concerns. Physicians want to be able to triage rapidly. And the ability to do this digitally is dependent on data. Data that has been historically hard to share or integrate.

The new rule aims to remove information blocking barriers between providers and payers. With this knowledge, patients can take a more active role in their health, which is critical right now.

The outcome of the adoption of the new interoperability rules should allow patients to become fully engaged in their own health. With access to information, patients could track and assess symptoms, find appropriate care, and contribute their own data to public health efforts.

The Role of the Interoperability Rule in COVID-19

There are several ways that interoperability standards play a role in the COVID-19 pandemic

Data sharing is more critical than ever

Data sharing has been cumbersome because there were no specific standards or firm mandates to do so. The ability to share data between providers and health officials could make a significant difference in the race to understand and develop a vaccine or treatment for the novel coronavirus. 

Per the rule, data must be standardized through FHIR. This is a unique and compelling opportunity for a new frontier in healthcare data sharing. FHIR offers security, privacy, and efficiency.

Screening, telehealth, and triage apps need to be connected to patient data


COVID-19 is highly contagious, which means limited mobility and social distancing. Further, testing for the virus is still slow and disjointed. Many patients are turning to apps for telemedicine, triaging, or screening. But how effective are these apps with the patient’s medical records? 

With information about preexisting conditions, age, gender, and other elements, patient care would be more relevant to that patient. It could also help public health officials understand better risk profiles for the virus. 

The effectiveness of virtual medical interactions is severely compromised without the ability to exchange data between EHRs and other platforms. 

Updating and improving standards of screening and care

Guidelines for screening and treatment of COVID-19 are changing every day. Only a few weeks ago, testing was being limited to those who had traveled outside the country. Now, that’s become irrelevant, as the U.S. has become the epicenter of the pandemic. 

With everything in motion, this is another area where interoperability and data exchange could help. As standards of screening and care evolve, the information can be delivered across multiple systems to provide real-time information to patients.

Will COVID-19 Impact the Interoperability Rule Timeline?

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, the 2021 guideline was reasonable. Now, it seems that all impacted parties—providers, payers, and EHR vendors—are finding it difficult to ramp up interoperability processes while also fighting a pandemic. 

CMS is hearing the concerns of stakeholders, easing the reporting requirements for 1.2 million clinicians in the Quality Payment Program and other reporting requirements. CMS also said it’s looking at how COVID-19 will impact compliance but has not extended deadlines as of yet. 

Challenges and Opportunities Ahead

The interoperability rule and COVID-19 present both challenges and opportunities. What’s apparent is that the demand for data sharing is mission-critical at this time. Find out more about PHI data sharing and how we can be your data liaison. Taking action now could make all the difference in the fight against COVID-19.

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