21st Century Cures Act: What Providers and Electronic Health Record Vendors Need to Know

January 04, 2017

With significant bipartisan support, President Obama signed the 21st Century Cures Act, and it became a law on December 13, 2016. The act allocates nearly $5 billion to the National Institute of Health (NIH) to advance the President’s Precision Medicine Initiative and support Vice President Biden’s “cancer moonshot.” In addition, several of the Act’s provisions directly impact digital health.

While the legislation will be open to interpretation under President Trump’s new administration and the 115th Congress, history suggests that Congressman Tom Price, secretary nominee to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), will not favor burdensome regulation. Rep. Price also believes that the Meaningful Use Incentive Program has not delivered on its promise to improve health IT, a perspective that his 20 years as a practicing physician helped shape.

Uncertainties aside, we know interoperability remains an industry priority. Having actionable data available at all critical points of care allows clinicians to make optimal decisions. Only then can cost savings, better care quality and improved safety—the benefits that technology and connectivity have the power to deliver—be realized.

As clinicians and solutions providers continue to digest the Cures’ 996 pages—in addition to adjusting to their post-MACRA reality—below are some of the key healthcare technology provisions of the 21st Century Cures Act:

Changes to electronic health record (EHR) incentives:

EHR Meaningful Use incentives will be prioritized, focusing on activities that improve patient care and the clinical documentation process.

Meaningful Use reporting:

Meaningful Use program attestation statistics will be made available to the public by the HIT Advisory Committee, including information by state and the number of providers who did not attest.

Health IT for specialties and sites of service

There will be a concerted effort to encourage voluntary certification for medical specialties and sites of service for which technology is not available.

Information blocking and reporting transparency:

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and HHS must clearly define activities that do not constitute data blocking, while health IT developers must demonstrate that their solutions do not block health information exchange.


To improve interoperability, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) will establish a trusted exchange network created through public-private partnerships. A provider digital contact information index for professionals and facilities will be created, and The HIT Advisory Committee will be established to replace the current Policy and Standards Committees.

Standards adoption:

To advance standards adoption, HHS will address priority uses of HIT arising from the implementation of Merit-Based Payment Incentive Systems (MIPS), Alternative Payment Models (APMs) and Meaningful Use-related payment programs. It will also identify existing standards and implementation specs that support information exchange.

Registries and Patient Safety Organizations (PSOs):

To improve patient safety, EHR vendors will be treated as providers for reporting purposes, conducting activities related to patient safety, care quality and outcomes. EHRs must also be able to transmit, receive and accept data from registries—including clinician-led data registries.

Patient data access and patient empowerment:

Partnerships among health information exchange (HIE) networks, health plans and providers are encouraged to give patients better access to their records in a single, electronic format. The EHR vendor certification process will support better patient data access. The HIT Advisory Committee will focus on standards and certification criteria that support data access and usability.

Government Accountability Office (GAO) studies:

The GAO will conduct multiple studies designed to improve patient identification matching and overcome barriers related to patient data access (e.g., fees for record requests or transfers and issues related to the form and format of requests).

The 21st Century Cures Act has significant industrywide implications, and 2017 will surely be a year of continued transformation and transition. And for all who touch the digital health landscape, it’s important to remember that healthcare interoperability is not a far-off pipe dream—it’s achievable, and it’s happening right now. Health information exchange isn’t just about moving data around—it’s about sharing data with all necessary parties. In doing so, we can truly leverage the wealth of information that has the capacity to make healthcare better for everyone.

Be sure to check the Surescripts blog for regular updates on the future of healthcare interoperability, and follow @Surescripts to stay updated on how existing connected health technologies are helping providers achieve data exchange and deliver unmatched patient care every day.

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