In a scathing report released last Friday, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) accused hospitals and software vendors of preventing the sharing of health information in order for hospitals to prevent patients from being referred to or seeking treatment at nonaffiliated providers and electronic medical record vendors to try to keep market share from their competitors.

The effect of the “information blocking” has been to “frustrate the goals” of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) which provided close to $30 billion in financial incentives to hospitals and eligible providers to become meaningful users of certified electronic health record systems (EHR).

According to the report, hospitals are blocking the sharing of health information “to control referrals and enhance their market dominance.” There are claims that hospitals are using the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to prohibit sharing health information even in a treatment setting, when in fact HIPAA allows the exchange of information for treatment, payment, and operations. Further, EHR vendors are blocking information to “lock providers and consumers to rigid technologies and information sharing networks that reinforce the market dominance of established players and prevent competition from more innovative technologies and services…”

The ONC is not happy with the results of the report and indicated that it will take swift and strong action to prevent this behavior from continuing. It stated that it will get more aggressive on approving EMR technology and is considering suspending or terminated vendors with certification if interoperability is frustrated by its technology. It also announced that it would issue a proposed rule requiring transparency and disclosure obligation of EHR vendors. It will also refer cases to the Federal Trade Commission if it is believed that the information blocking is an antitrust violation.

The report is a strong message to hospitals and EHR vendors, who likely will want to evaluate it in the context of a risk management program.