Opponents of the new federal healthcare interoperability rules may have found an ally in the least likely place: The coronavirus. Because of the outbreak of the global pandemic, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is working to determine whether or not to push back the originally publicized timeline of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology’s (ONC) interoperability rule.

The reason is obvious. Since the rule was published on March 9, there’s been a bigger healthcare story. The virus announced itself to more than 100 countries worldwide and spread through community infection in the U.S.

Everyone, from business leaders and employees to titans of industry and average Joes, now finds themselves in the fight. And, while interoperability might be an excellent arrow in the healthcare quiver, for the worst healthcare crisis anyone alive has ever seen, it's not going to hit any targets.

The Trump administration is fighting battles on too many fronts, it seems.

The interoperability rule may be another one — one that can be set aside for now. Thus, the Health IT Advisory Committee met last week to discuss possibly pushing back both the ONC and CMS interoperability rules because of the spread of the coronavirus.

“That is definitely something that is under consideration,” said Denise St. Clair, a program analyst in the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services' (CMS) health informatics office at a Health IT Advisory Committee meeting in mid-March. “We are definitely thinking through all of the real and incredibly important work that everyone needs to be focusing on right now.”

In addition to the ONC interoperability rule possibly being pushed back, the agency is attempting to determine if it should to delay the timeline for the CMS rule, which focuses on providers and payers.

"We're in a unique situation, and we're thinking through all the real and incredibly important work that everybody needs to be focusing on right now," said St. Clair. “That is something that is definitely under consideration. We’re assessing the situation and looking for feedback.”

Interoperability is designed to help healthcare insiders share and access electronic health information, coordinate their healthcare journeys, and prohibits information blocking. It is designed to hold health IT developers — EHR vendors, accountable as a condition of certification.

The timeline for the roll out of the rule ranges from six months to 24 months based on the type of healthcare agency represented.

Health information exchanges (HIEs) have a six-month timeline to implement the changes. Electronic health record vendors have between 12 to 24 months to implement the changes and receive certification.