OIG alert explains ties between information blocking, EHR safe harbor

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 - Health IT Security

Information blocking can affect safe harbor protection under the federal anti-kickback statute, according to an alert issued by the Department of Health and Human Services's Office of Inspector General.

Providers may donate IT or software to potential referral sources, such as a physician practice, under a safe harbor provision of the anti-kickback statute but if the donor uses those donated items to limit the use, compatibility or interoperability of other EHR systems, then the safe harbor no longer applies.

The safe harbor does not offer protection for situations in which an entity, acting on the donor's behalf--including the recipient--takes any action that interferes with or restricts the donated product's ability to communicate with products from other vendors, compatibility or use.
The alert was issued as part of National Health IT Week. “Health IT has become a critical part of the healthcare system and offers opportunities to improve patient care, make practice management more efficient and improve public health,” according to HHS Inspector General Daniel Levinson. “We must be vigilant in ensuring that health IT is used to achieve these benefits, and not as a tool to facilitate healthcare fraud.”
In a post on the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT's blog, HHS Inspector General Daniel Levinson wrote, "We continue to support the goal of promoting adoption of EHR technology and recognize the potential benefits offered by health IT. At the same time, we remain committed to investigating potentially abusive donation arrangements that purport to meet the safe harbor conditions, but, in fact, do not. Such arrangements can undermine the benefits of health IT and present risks for the department's programs and beneficiaries."