The Security Scrutinizer with Howard Anderson

A Groundbreaking HIE Moment?

Mayo, Kaiser, 3 Others Test National Health Info Exchange

The ongoing effort to enable the secure exchange of health information from coast to coast recently got a very important boost when five well-known healthcare organizations joined forces to serve as trailblazers.

Mayo Clinic, Kaiser Permanente, Intermountain Healthcare, Group Health Cooperative and Geisinger Health System formed the Care Connectivity Consortium. They've set a lofty goal of conducting real-world tests of national health information exchange in an effort to develop policies, procedures and tools that others can use.

We'll be watching closely to see if these trailblazers successfully identify best practices for secure health information exchange, including practical privacy protections. 

It's good to see someone other than the federal government taking a lead role in paving the way for the national sharing of potentially life-saving information. All five organizations already extensively use electronic health records and participate in regional HIEs. So they're well-suited to test the broader national exchange of data across multiple organizations.

In an interview this week, James Walker, M.D., Geisinger's chief health information officer, explained that the mission of the consortium is "to work among the five of us to establish simple, robust, safe, private methods for sharing patient information with each other. We believe our ability to share information among the five of us will create a usable, implementable standard that other organizations will find attractive." (See: HIE Pioneers to Securely Share Data)

Consortium members hope their efforts will help cut the time it takes to enable "all healthcare organization in the United States to share information so that patients get better care where they need it and when they need it," Walker said.

The consortium will use all available standards, including the Nationwide Health Information Network. But sometimes standards aren't enough, Walker conceded.

"With every standard, you need to make implementation decisions. What can happen is ... even though they are using national standards, if organizations make those implementation decisions individually, they can end up being unable to share information."

By jointly implementing standards and documenting the process, the consortium hopes to give other organizations "the confidence that if they implement the model that we've created, they'll be able to interoperate easily," Walker said.

We'll be watching closely to see if these trailblazers successfully identify best practices for secure health information exchange, including practical privacy protections.

Praise for HIE Consortium

In a blog this week, Doug Fridsma, M.D., Ph.D., director of interoperability and standards at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, acknowledged the important role this new consortium could play in advancing health information exchange.

Here's an excerpt from that blog:

"In order to achieve nationwide interoperability, we need the public and private sectors to collaborate around common challenges that will rapidly advance the work of standards and specifications development. Government can serve as a 'platform' for innovation, leveraging a national perspective that facilitates innovative approaches to solving common problems.

"We hope to spur an open and transparent process for standards and specifications development through the Standards and Interoperability Framework in which organizations such as the Care Connectivity Consortium can provide leadership, expertise and pilots. The work that the Consortium is doing fits well within that model, and their work will certainly have a significant effect on our developing high-quality, testable, modular and simple implementation and testing specifications."

More Good HIE News

Meanwhile, it's also good news that continuing efforts to develop open source software based on the NHIN standards has shifted from the government to the new Alembic Foundation. (See: Open Source HIE Initiative Described) This shift could lead more organizations to at least test-drive the software for health information exchange.

And we're glad to see that Farzad Mostashari, the new national coordinator for health IT, is taking an incremental, measured approach toward testing a health information exchange architecture advocated by the Presidential Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. (See: Tests of New HIE Architecture Slated)

A rapid move to this architecture would be a quantum leap for HIEs already in the works. So an incremental approach to verifying the value of the architecture, rather than a rush to push forward, is pragmatic.



About the Author

Howard Anderson

Howard Anderson

News Editor, ISMG

Anderson is news editor of Information Security Media Group and was founding editor of HealthcareInfoSecurity and DataBreachToday. He has more than 40 years of journalism experience, with a focus on healthcare information technology issues. Before launching HealthcareInfoSecurity, he served as founding editor of Health Data Management magazine, where he worked for 17 years, and he served in leadership roles at several other healthcare magazines and newspapers.




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