New state-focused interoperability push
As ONC puts forth the government's long-term vision for nationwide interoperability, four industry stakeholders – the EHR/HIE Interoperability Workgroup, HIMSS, Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise and ICSA Labs – have joined forces to tackle more immediate challenges of data exchange across state lines.
[See also: Interoperability vs. HIE: Words matter]
By partnering with HIMSS and IHE USA, the Interoperability Workgroup, or IWG, aims to bolster its testing and certification program for electronic health record and health information exchange vendors, helping ensure more reliable transfer of data within and across organizational and state boundaries. IWG has tapped Mechanicsburg, Pa.-based ICSA Labs as its testing and certification body.
The IWG is a New York-led consortium of 19 states and 47 EHR and HIE vendors, formed in 2011 to increase the adoption of EHRs and HIE services by eliminating the significant "interface" cost and time barrier.
The New York eHealth Collaborative created, led and financed IWG, whose members collaborate to develop integrated EHR capabilities so that data sharing across and between states and health IT systems will be more compatible.
“This joint effort will help pave the way for health information to be exchanged seamlessly between systems, allowing clinicians and health systems to more easily and securely share patient data," said Dave Whitlinger, executive director of NYeC, the coordinator of the Statewide Health Information Network of New York, in a press statement.
"By making it easier for electronic health record systems to communicate, this new collaboration will help fulfill the promise of health information exchange, improving patient care and lowering healthcare costs," said Whitlinger.
This collaboration could impact more than half the U.S. population – and their care providers, who'll now have the ability to securely access health data shared across multiple states and systems, officials say.
The effort builds on and accelerates consensus on national standards, adopting EHR certification criteria and testing procedures as relevant for Stage 2 meaningful use. Together, the groups will continue to provide feedback to the national health IT standard-setting initiatives established by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT
"Both IWG and IHE USA have worked independently with notable accomplishments. However, the consolidation of our efforts, along with the commitment of these organizations, offers the most promise to create a real, lasting impact and make interoperability a reality in healthcare," said Joyce Sensmeier, RN, president of IHE USA, who pointed out the individual strengths of each group:
- IWG offers the specifications, a robust, automated testing tool and significant workgroup membership of states and vendors.
- IHE USA brings specifications that form the foundation of interoperability, industry expertise and support and experience in system-to-system and product testing.
- HIMSS is known for its consistent convening strength, public policy channels, stakeholder representation and sector support.
- ICSA Labs provides expert health IT analysts and a proven testing and certification framework.
"HIMSS, IWG and IHE USA recognize the definitive power of collaboration to reach our shared vision for robust, secure and interoperable health information exchange. This new program builds on current activities to certify EHR and HIE products that are able to reliably transfer data within and across organizational and state boundaries," said Carla Smith, executive vice president, HIMSS North America, in a prepared statement.