By Christine Kern, contributing writer
Connecticut recently became the first state to legislate against information blocking of medical data, and now the state attorney general has opened an investigation into Epic Systems and hospital networks across the state, according to Politico. The law took effect October 1, 2015, and was designed to counter the national trend of rapid consolidation of healthcare networks. The high rate of consolidation has raised antitrust concerns from some stakeholders.
The investigation stems from accusations from independent medical groups that hospital networks are using EHRs to control patient referrals and keep patients in their own networks, Politico reports. As a result, HHS’ inspector general has issued a warning about unfair EHR-related practices.
Critics in Connecticut argue Epic has been working in collaboration with hospital networks to pressure practices to sell out. Epic currently controls more than half of the state hospital EHR market according to Politico.
The Office of the Attorney General told Health Data Management, “We do not at this time have an active investigation into any specific target or targets. However, we are aware of this issue, are interested in its impact on the healthcare market in Connecticut, and are continuing to evaluate it. We would decline further comment at this time.”
Republican State Senator Len Fason, who co-sponsored the law, has heard from physicians state-wide who are experiencing difficulties accessing patient information recorded at large hospitals like Yale-New Haven. He told Politico, “It was impossible for them to gain access to a patient’s full medical record unless they were associated with the hospital. Independent doctors cannot properly care for their patients if they are denied access to full medical histories.”
“Epic categorically does not engage in data blocking, nor are we aware of any customers that do,” Erika Koch, spokeswoman for the EHR vendor, told Health Data Management. “We are all, as an industry, working toward an ideal state of seamless interoperability. With today’s interoperability standards, a clinical summary can be and is shared between health systems and independent providers. Given the depth and complexity of a modern clinical record, the fact that not all of a patient’s information is interoperable should not be confused with willful withholding.”
And Epic spokesman Eric Helsher told Politico Epic was faultless in the conditions leading to the allegations, saying they were “indicative of the changing landscape of healthcare due to the move to value-based payments and coordinated care. Physicians are aligning with health systems to reduce costs and improve patient outcomes. Epic enables this alignment by providing deep integration around a single patient record, a robust patient portal to increase patient engagement, and population health management and analytics tools that drive coordinated care.”
Connecticut’s June law makes information blocking an unfair trade practice with severe penalties. The law bases its definition on the ONC’s April information blocking report. The push to make information blocking illegal is also gaining ground on the national level, and earlier this month the senate HELP committee drafted a new bill that prohibits the practice.