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How adopting health data standards could enable interoperability

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Electronic health record (EHR) interoperability is a key piece in the sharing of patient information between different EHR systems and healthcare providers, improving the ease with which doctors can provide care to their patients and patients can move in and out of different care facilities. However, there are a number of EHR interoperability challenges that must be overcome to allow for true coordination of patient care among multiple providers.

Adopting health data standards can be part of the solution to overcoming those EHR interoperability challenges. The Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) for Health Information Technology (Health IT) is “working to enable the health IT community to convene and rapidly prioritize health IT challenges and subsequently develop and harmonize standards, specifications and implementation guidance to solve those challenges.”

The ONC publishes the Interoperability Standards Advisory (ISA) as “a way of recognizing interoperability standards and implementation specifications for industry use to fulfill specific clinical health IT interoperability needs.” Included on the list of standards “to watch,” that could impact and help overcome EHR interoperability challenges, include:

  • Consolidated-Clinical Document Architecture (C-CDA) — C-CDA is a framework for creating clinical documents that contain both human-readable text and machine-readable XML. Targets include Health Information Exchanges that comply to the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the Final Rules for Stage 1 Meaningful Use, and the 45 CFR Part 170 – Health Information Technology: Initial Set of Standards, Implementation Specifications, and Certification Criteria for Electronic Health Record Technology; Final Rule, as well as EHR vendors.
  • Direct — is a standard for sending health information securely over the internet. The ability to send secure direct messages is critical for independent physicians to communicate with specialty providers and with patients.

ONC is responsible for “curating the set of standards and specifications that support interoperability and ensuring that they can be assembled into solutions for a variety of health information exchange scenarios.”