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September 24, 2014

'Access denied.' Vendor blocks providers' access to EHRs amid billing dispute

Daily Briefing

    See our experts' take on the CompuGroup case—and how you can protect your providers' access to patient data.

    A recent dispute between a Maine-based medical practice and an electronic health record (EHR) vendor has raised questions over what happens to patients' records when providers experience financial troubles, Christopher Rowland reports for the Boston Globe.

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    'Access denied'

    On July 30, CompuGroup—a German-based EHR vendor with U.S. headquarters in Boston—blocked Full Circle Health Care's access to about 4,000 patient records after the small medical practice allegedly failed to pay up to $20,000 in fees over a 10-month period. As a result of the lockout, nurses and doctors were not able to use the system to access patients' records, including:

    • Allergy reports;
    • Blood pressure logs;
    • Diabetes information;
    • Lab results; and
    • Medication histories.

    Instead, the computer responded to attempts to access the information with an "access denied" message, according to the Globe.

    CompuGroup Medical USA general counsel Tetyana Buescher says, "Full Circle had a lot of opportunities to resolve this, including getting on a payment plan; they chose not to do that." She adds that blocking providers' access to records "is absolutely the last measure that we have."

    Full Circle owner and operator E. Victoria Grover called the vendor's actions "incredulous."

    Buescher said she is seeking 48 hours of access to the records so they can be moved to a new EHR system. However, the provider has not filed a lawsuit against CompuGroup, and it is unclear what legal recourse is available to the facility, the Globe reports.

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    Implications of the case

    Legal experts say the case could have implications for other providers and vendors who rushed to participate in the federal EHR incentive program without giving adequate consideration to certain "what if" scenarios, such as what would happen to patients' records if:

    • Computer systems ceased working;
    • Contracted parties have disagreements; or
    • Health care facilities experienced financial troubles.

    According to the Globe, the Maine case represents the "worst-case scenario."

    Dianne Bourque, a health care lawyer at Mintz Levin who is not involved in the case but specializes in contract and regulatory cases, says locking providers out of EHRs "creates patient risk" and is "dangerous."

    Aroostook Medical Center Chief Medical Information Officer Roger Pelli adds, "It's critical that [providers] can access" EHR data. He says, "It would tie my hands as a physician if I was trying to care for someone and I couldn't get their data" (Rowland, Boston Globe, 9/22).

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