The Future of Healthcare Information Exchange: Big Bang in 2023

The healthcare industry is embarking on a transformative journey towards nationwide interoperability, as five pioneering healthcare companies take a momentous step towards creating a network for exchanging patient health information. HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra described this achievement as witnessing the “Big Bang” of healthcare information exchange in 2023. By joining forces in a private-public partnership, these companies are paving the way for a comprehensive and accessible platform that was once deemed impossible. This article explores the significance of this milestone and the future implications for healthcare information exchange.

The First Qualified Health Information Networks

The five healthcare companies leading the charge in this healthcare information exchange initiative are eHealth Exchange, Epic Nexus, Health Gorilla, KONZA, and MedAllies. Collectively, they are the first qualified health information networks (QHINs) to meet the criteria for participation in the Trusted Exchange Framework and Common Agreement (TEFCA). This framework, established by the federal government, aims to facilitate and streamline the exchange of health information among health plans, providers, public health agencies, and patients. Their commitment to this initiative was celebrated in a signing ceremony held at the HHS headquarters.

Enabling High-Quality Care

Interoperability plays a crucial role in delivering high-quality healthcare. Rob Klootwyk, the director of interoperability for Epic Nexus, highlighted the significance of a complete and accurate medical record in providing the best care for patients. When clinicians can easily exchange information, they gain access to the patient’s comprehensive medical history, enabling them to make more informed decisions and deliver personalized care. The development of TEFCA is a significant milestone in aligning regional efforts under a federal mandate, but there are still gaps that need to be addressed to achieve universal interoperability.

The ultimate goal of TEFCA is to achieve universal interoperability across the healthcare landscape. To accomplish this, all physicians in the country must be engaged participants in TEFCA. Klootwyk emphasized the importance of closing the existing gaps by encouraging every physician in the country to adopt and participate in TEFCA. Epic Nexus alone expects over 200 hospitals and 3,000 clinics to become early adopters of this framework. At full rollout, they anticipate supporting approximately 2,700 hospitals and 70,000 clinics to go live on TEFCA. Achieving a critical mass of providers within the TEFCA network is vital for its success.

Micky Tripathi, the head of ONC, encouraged healthcare providers who are currently on the sidelines to join the TEFCA initiative. His hope is that the forward momentum of TEFCA will inspire health information exchanges (HIEs), vendors, physicians, and smaller hospitals to prioritize and actively participate in the network. Tripathi believes that clarity on the benefits and opportunities provided by TEFCA will drive more providers to acknowledge the importance of joining this transformative movement.

One key aspect that TEFCA currently lacks is a unique patient identifier for every individual whose data is being shared. While this would undoubtedly enhance the efficiency and accuracy of healthcare information exchange, Tripathi stated that it is not a requirement for TEFCA. The lack of a unique patient identifier is due to long-standing congressional prohibitions. Nevertheless, the industry has adapted and made significant strides in patient identification, mitigating the impact of this limitation.

The healthcare industry is on the cusp of a revolution in healthcare information exchange. The collaboration between healthcare companies to establish the TEFCA network marks a pivotal moment in achieving nationwide interoperability. With the participation of providers, vendors, and healthcare organizations, the vision of seamless exchange of patient health information is becoming a reality. While challenges remain, such as the absence of a unique patient identifier, the collective efforts of the industry are driving significant progress towards a future where healthcare information is easily accessible and positively impacts patient care. The big bang of healthcare information exchange in 2023 is just the beginning of an exciting journey towards a more interconnected and efficient healthcare system.

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