Are We Finally Ready for Health-Data Interoperability?

It’s been decades since the concept of health-data interoperability was first advanced, and in all those years, progress has been stymied by an array of issues, ranging from technical to cultural. In 2018, however, all signs are pointing to a positive outcome on interoperability and the advent of nationwide electronic health-data exchange.

I recently spoke with Kathryn Marchesini, who will take over as the Office of the National Coordinator for HIT’s chief privacy officer on Jan. 22, and she told me that the health-care system is at an inflection point on the road to interoperability. The ONC is busy implementing several HIT provisions contained in the 21st Century Cures Act, she said, most of which are helping with the final push to full interoperability.

For example, the ONC will be rolling out a rule on information blocking this spring, Marchesini said. Information blocking can occur when a network data vendor deliberately blocks or slows data exchange with a competing vendor, and the rule will define what constitutes information blocking. A separate Cures provision authorizes the Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General to penalize information blocking arrangements.

Marchesini also discussed the recent release of the draft Trusted Exchange Framework, which is another step to full interoperability. The draft is attempting to create a single on-ramp to health-care data exchange for all providers, Marchesini said. The framework includes a set of principles for effective health-data exchange among networks, covering everything from data transparency to standardization.

Marchesini said she’ll be focused on ensuring that electronic data can be shared safely, and noted that the ONC is eager to address stakeholder concerns over the privacy and security of accessing health-care data electronically. She also said the ONC would continue to maintain a close working relationship with the HHS Office for Civil Rights to protect health-care data.

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