THE UPSIDE OF THE MIGRATION TO ELECTRONIC HEALTH RECORDS (EHRs) seems clear: Data should be more standardized, and the searchable information it creates might yield important new discoveries. The reality so far has been less bright, and some of those who make EHR software and systems are partly to blame. A few companies have charged exorbitant fees to transfer an EHR to a hospital that uses a different software or system. Other systems, hospital officials say, make it difficult to make such EHR transfers at all.

While digital turf battles may be part of the 21st century landscape, the consequences of holding EHRs hostage in this way have drawn a federal response. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, an agency created a decade ago, has moved aggressively to curb what it calls “information blocking” of EHRs. The ONC issued a report to Congress describing the problem, citing some egregious examples and describing steps the government and the private sector might take to head it off.

As a consequence, two federal bills introduced last year included provisions aimed at the problem. One prevents doctors, hospitals and health IT vendors from engaging in information blocking if they receive incentive payments for using EHRs. And the 21st Century Cures Act, passed by the House, would make information blocking a federal crime.