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Health IT Standards Group Takes Step toward EHR Data Exchange


Healthcare providers will soon be expected to exchange data via their EHRs. Here’s how one major standards organization wants to help.

Unless you’ve been in a cave, you probably heard that CMS, in its proposal for Stage 2 of its meaningful use program, is calling for providers to use a health information exchange (HIE) to share patient data and improve care. 

Specifically, one  of the core meaningful use objectives of Stage 2 under CMS' EHR incentive program calls for eligible professionals [EPs] to demonstrate "capability to exchange key clinical information (for example, problem list, medication list, allergies, and diagnostic test results), among providers of care and patient authorized entities electronically."

But for most providers who don’t use the same EHR vendor, doing so is going to present some challenges. Exchanging data between systems created by competing vendors is difficult because technology isn’t interoperable, meaning (in layman’s terms), systems don’t speak the same language.

On the bright side, a new effort from a large healthcare data-standards interoperability organization may help to address some of those technological “language” barriers between EHRs.

HL7, a standards-development organization whose members include big-name EHR vendors like McKesson, Cerner, and Intel, recently unveiled a pilot membership program and website. The goal: To encourage physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and others in the healthcare continuum to participate in the process of developing standards for EHRs.

“These clinicians are best suited to provide input about the usability, interface design, and work flow demands of electronic health records,” said Charles Jaffe, CEO of HL7, in a press statement. “We are now in a better position to translate the practical clinical experience of these caregivers into tangible improvements in the interaction with the health record technology.”

The organization’s effort is significant, considering that HL7 is, essentially, the 800-pound gorilla when it comes to health IT standards. Yet it is only one small step in achieving interoperability utopia.

Creating a universal HIE could be years away, even if the biggest animal in the market is pushing forward. To date, there are still something like 400 other technology specifications floating around, EHR Association vice chairman Charles Jarvis, who is also the vice president of NextGen Healthcare, recently told Physicians Practice. So for data exchange to be efficient, the healthcare industry will need to agree to using the same technology, HL7 or otherwise.

David Gilbertson, CEO of Health Information Technology Exchange of Connecticut (HITE-CT), a state HIE under construction, recently stressed to Physicians Practice the main benefit of interoperability is the ability to move information into the physician’s work flow in a less time-consuming manner. And in today’s era of shorter visits and reimbursement cuts, time is of the essence.

“It’s one thing to make information available and to have a place where providers can go get it if they want it,” said Gilbertson. “But that’s not ideal. What providers want is information available where they look for information. I don’t think providers are excited about going into multiple portals for information.”

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