In this section
How does Health Information Exchange affect your practice?
Over the past decade, hospitals and physician offices have made tremendous gains in shifting their medical record-keeping from paper to computerized systems. This shift to electronic health information and interoperability of this information, such as through the use of electronic health records (EHRs), has the potential to make care safer and more efficient and improve the patient care experience by providing timely access to health information and seamlessly coordinated care.
In an ideal state, patients’ information should automatically follow them to all of their healthcare providers, so that everyone on their care teams stays informed and provides the best treatment. Facilitating electronic exchange of this health information is critical to easing burden by ensuring that clinicians have the best information possible when making decisions about patient care.
Appropriate and timely sharing of patient information also allows clinicians to ensure patients receive timely care in the most appropriate setting by:
- Reducing duplicate testing
- Avoiding medication errors
- Avoiding readmissions
- Improving decision making
- Enhancing care coordination
What is being done to improve health information exchange and advance interoperability?
The transition to EHRs has caused frustration among clinicians who expected the electronic capture of information to make their care more efficient. Instead, many clinicians have faced increased workload and patients' and other clinicians' access to the data is not seamless. To address these challenges and improve health information exchange — most notably, in relation to nationwide interoperability and information blocking — Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act of 2016 (known as “the Cures Act”) with bipartisan support.
Specifically, the Cures Act identified the following main priorities for improved interoperability:
- Improve data sharing across disparate networks
- Reduce information blocking
- Advance a trusted exchange framework and a common agreement for exchange between health information networks nationally
- Promote the use of APIs to support patients' ability to have greater access to their health information through, for example, smartphones
The provisions of the Cures Act aim to reduce clinicians' regulatory and administrative burden and, in the words of National Coordinator for Health IT Donald Rucker, MD, create “a health system where information flows appropriately and securely to patients and their clinicians [that] will help coordinate care and reduce costs by making care faster and less duplicative.”
What is the Trusted Exchange Framework and Common Agreement (TEFCA)?
The Trusted Exchange Framework and the Common Agreement will outline a policy and technical approach for nationwide electronic health information exchange. TEFCA is mandated as part of the 21st Century Cures Act. Once finalized, it will allow clinicians and other healthcare providers to access patient health data from a variety of health information networks (HINs).
Healthcare practices will only have to connect to 1 HIN in order to access patient information from HINs across the country. Being able to access this information can ensure patient safety and better care quality — especially when providing unplanned care.
To participate in health information exchange through the Trusted Exchange Framework and the Common Agreement, healthcare providers can:
- Join an existing qualified health information network (QHIN) or join with other practices to form a new QHIN
- Require that health IT developers they contract with be connected to the network created by the Common Agreement