Healthcare , Industry Specific

6 Networks Named in Nationwide Health Data Exchange Effort

First Applicants Approved for Participation in HHS' National TEFCA Network
6 Networks Named in Nationwide Health Data Exchange Effort
Micky Tripathi, HHS' national coordinator for health IT, announcing the latest developments involving TEFCA (Image: Flickr)

Federal regulators said true health data interoperability is on its way for hundreds of millions of American patients now that six tech providers have committed to a rigorous set of trust and security criteria for swapping patient information.

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The six organizations, including electronic health record maker Epic, pledged by year-end to meet the framework for interoperability laid out in the Trusted Exchange Framework and Common Agreement. An organization designated by the Department of Health and Human Services is known as a Qualified Health Information Network - and should be able to transmit and receive patient data regardless of the underlying EHR provider.

That kind of true interoperability across organizational and proprietary lines, which is all too often illusory today, motivated the federal government's strong regulatory push for clinics to adopt electronic medical records, an effort that is now in its second decade.

"At some point, it's going to click that something is changed," HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said during a Monday event celebrating the announcement. Patients will see that specialists instantly got the information that was needed to keep them alive."

The prospective QHINs - CommonWell Health Alliance, eHealth Exchange, Epic TEFCA Interoperability Services, Health Gorilla, Kno2 and KONZA - have each committed to go live by year-end, meaning that they agree to complete preproduction conformance testing by December. They will then proceed into productions phases and become officially designated QHINs.

Each of the six named QHIN organizations already facilitates health information exchange among its own members. Collectively as a group, the networks cover most U.S. hospitals and tens of thousands of healthcare providers, said HHS leaders during the Monday event.

TEFCA is the Department of Health and Human Services' infrastructure model and governing approach for advancing nationwide, secure, interoperable health information exchange. HHS last year issued its detailed requirements and guidelines for organizations voluntarily seeking to participate in TEFCA (see: HHS Issues Trusted Health Data Exchange Governance Framework).

"It's a game changer," said Becerra during the event. The concept of nationwide secure health data exchange has been nearly decades in the making. The effort gained steam about six years ago under the 21st Century Cures Act, which called for the development of a "trusted exchange framework, including a common agreement among health information networks nationally."

The ultimate aims are for TEFCA to help advance clinical care and communication, reduce medical errors and administrative inefficiencies and ease patients' access to their health data, he says.

The broader vision for TEFCA includes simplifying public health reporting across the country and enabling U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare providers to exchange patient records more easily with private sector healthcare facilities.

TEFCA also aims to enable patients to more easily and securely access their own health information.

Any technology vendor seeking to connect to the TEFCA network - such as developers providing consumer health apps - must comply with the HIPAA privacy and security rules, even if the vendor is not a HIPAA-covered entity or business associate, says Micky Tripathi, HHS' national coordinator for health IT. He says that should pave the way for more patient health data sharing with mobile apps.

Many healthcare providers "feel discomfort" in sending patient information to consumer mobile apps, Tripathi says. Consumer apps connecting to TEFCA are bound by contract to comply with HIPAA's privacy and security requirements.

ONC expects that additional organizations will submit applications to become QHINs in the coming months as the network moves toward full production.

About the Author

Marianne Kolbasuk McGee

Marianne Kolbasuk McGee

Executive Editor, HealthcareInfoSecurity, ISMG

McGee is executive editor of Information Security Media Group's media site. She has about 30 years of IT journalism experience, with a focus on healthcare information technology issues for more than 15 years. Before joining ISMG in 2012, she was a reporter at InformationWeek magazine and news site and played a lead role in the launch of InformationWeek's healthcare IT media site.

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