Coalition launches HIE testing initiative

By Mike Miliard
10:49 AM

A coalition led by the EHR/HIE Interoperability Workgroup and Healtheway, the newly formed public-private partnership of the eHealth Exchange, has established a program to test and certify electronic health records and other health IT to ensure interoperability and reliable data exchange.

The coalition of 15 states, 37 technology vendors and 34 HIEs has set up an automated testing program to verify that, once tested, a system is capable of exchanging health information with many other systems. With this testing, a single set of standardized, easy-to-implement connections can support communication among systems.

The effort is being jointly led by the EHR/HIE Interoperability Workgroup, a New York eHealth Collaborative (NYeC)-led consortium of states and vendors, and Healtheway, the newly formed public-private partnership of the eHealth Exchange, a network of 34 public and private organizations representing hundreds of hospitals, thousands of providers and millions of patients.

The coalition selected the Certification Commission for Health Information Technology (CCHIT) to carry out the testing. As the compliance testing body, CCHIT will certify that the interfaces between the HIT and HIEs are consistent across multiple states and systems. CCHIT, which is also an Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) authorized certification body and is an accredited testing laboratory for EHRs, is collaborating with on the testing software, which is being developed under an open source license.

The initiative aims to accelerate consensus on national standards, adopting EHR certification criteria and testing procedures as relevant and finalized for Stage 2 of meaningful use. Members of both groups will continue to provide feedback from these real-world implementations to the national health IT standard setting initiatives established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC).

"Today's announcement brings together several activities supported by ONC over the past years: a core set of national standards, an accredited certification body, the Public-private partnership that has emerged from the Nationwide Health Information Network Exchange, and the convening power of New York and other State Health Information Exchange grantees," said Farzad Mostashari, MD, the national coordinator for health information technology.  "We look forward to working with this consortium to continue progress on interoperability and secure health information exchange, and to reflect what is learned in national standards as necessary."

"The collaboration between the states and vendors to address a shared marketplace gap and work toward a mutual vision has been one of the remarkable aspects of this effort," said David Whitlinger, Executive Director of NYeC. "And momentum is building within both communities as states grow their HIE networks by working with the EHR and HIE vendors to provide seamless integration and clinical workflow, taking the market to a new level for the benefit of patients."

"The testing program Healtheway has developed with NYeC is the key to realizing secure and interoperable exchange of health information across organizational and geographic boundaries," said Michael Matthews, Healtheway President and Board Chair. "The launch of a compliance testing program will enable the eHealth Exchange to more than double participation and connectivity over the next nine to 12 months."

NYeC created the EHR/HIE Interoperability Workgroup last year, and the group has developed technical and test specifications to address interoperable exchange for the past year-and-a-half. Around the same time, plans took shape to transition the NwHIN Exchange to function outside the federal government as a public-private network, now called the eHealth Exchange. To expand nationwide HIE, Healtheway and NYeC formed a strategic partnership to enable technology systems, public and private providers and health information organizations (HIOs) to have access to more efficient testing.

The coalition harmonized a set of specifications to enable plug-and-play connectivity to simplify EHR and HIE development. Its work covers the ability to send and receive encrypted health information over the Internet, lookup and retrieve patient records, and produce a constrained patient record summary which reduces variances and implementation-specific customization. These capabilities will allow providers to meet their goals for coordinating patient care.

Vendors, meanwhile, have agreed to bring their products for testing according to these specifications and participating states have agreed to promote the value of EHR and HIE products certified in the program. The program will ensure that providers' EHR software has the capability to connect to their local HIE and enable communities and states to share patient health information.  

"This project is a perfect fit for our public mission as a non-profit certification organization," said Alisa Ray, CCHIT's Executive Director. "Our experience in preparing organizations to certify products, coupled with the availability of highly automated testing, will help health IT companies get their technology to market quickly and prepare provider and HIE participants to share information more efficiently."