Modern healthcare must include secure interoperability between disparate IT systems. A public-private partnership to enable health data sharing looks to be a major step forward.
The goal is to test and certify electronic health record (EHR) and health information exchange (HIE) platforms so that data can be transferred easily -- whether within a single healthcare enterprise or across organizational and state boundaries.
This is no small matter. In a single hospital campus today, disparate systems may be unable to exchange crucial data about a single patient, such as medication history, lab work, and vital statistics. Multiply this by the sheer number of patients being treated by our nation's public and private healthcare systems, and the magnitude of the problem quickly becomes mind-boggling.
A Website created by the coalition partners explains the challenges like this:
A custom interface has to be negotiated and developed from each electronic health record to each health information exchange as well as between exchanges. The development of the interface and negotiation of point-to-point agreements represents a significant expenditure of cost and time for all stakeholders (physicians, HIEs, and vendors), limiting adoption and utilization of HIE.
An automated testing system -- created by a coalition of 15 states, 37 technology vendors, and 34 health information exchanges -- is designed to verify that, once tested, a system is capable of exchanging health information with many other systems. Two main groups are leading the efforts: The EHR/HIE Interoperability Workgroup and Healtheway. The former is a consortium of states and vendors that's led by the New York eHealth Collaborative. The latter is a public-private partnership of the eHealth Exchange, a network of 34 public and private organizations representing hundreds of hospitals, thousands of providers and millions of patients in the US.
According to a prepared statement released by the groups, the coalition represents more than 50 percent of the U.S. population. Participants in the interoperability initiative include the states of California, Florida, Illinois, and New York; the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services; Children's Hospital of Dallas; the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs; Kaiser Permanente; and the University of California San Diego.
Testing will be done by the Certification Commission for Health Information Technology (CCHIT). The testing program is designed to align with, and complement, the EHR certification effort established by the US Office of the National Coordinator (ONC), which also uses CCHIT as its testing body. According to the coalition, the Compliance Testing Program:
- Includes a technology certification component, building upon the EHR certification program established by ONC to support meaningful use
- Utilizes an accredited and authorized testing laboratory and certification body, leveraging the strategy implemented for the EHR certification program
- Verifies conformance with national standards
- Leverages national standards and work from the ONC Standards & Interoperability (S&I) Framework Initiatives
The testing program aims to more than double participation and connectivity in the next nine to 12 months. According to a prepared statement:
The coalition's work covers the ability to send and receive encrypted health information over the Internet, look up and retrieve patient records, and produce a tightly constrained patient record summary which reduces variances and implementation-specific customization.
It seems to me that if these efforts to improve interoperability and communication among the disparate healthcare organizations across the US proceed on schedule, we can expect dramatic transformations in patient care by this time next year. Here's hoping.