The lack of health information exchange standards represents perhaps the biggest obstacle to the federal government’s stated goal of a national network of hospitals and health care providers able to share personal health information safely and securely. It is a problem that the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) intends to address.
Last week the ONC picked consultancy Accenture PLC to help it develop health information exchange standards and specifications. Accenture seems like a good pick, especially in light of its recent hospital CIO survey, which suggests that hospitals underestimate the time and money needed to implement IT to successfully demonstrate the meaningful use of electronic health record (EHR) systems.
That announcement follows the ONC’s recent efforts to begin drafting a Standards & Interoperability Framework that could use new and existing health information technology to better share clinical, lab and diagnostic data, among other types of information. The main task, according to the S&I Framework wiki, is deciding which interoperability challenges correspond to the Stage 1 meaningful use criteria and therefore should be addressed first.
It’s a tall order. Accenture estimates that half of hospitals won’t meet meaningful use criteria by 2015. This represents a much more pessimistic view than the ONC’s recent meaningful use participation figures, which estimate that more than four out of five hospitals expect to qualify.
To be fair, a lack of health information exchanges standards is only partly to blame here, with such factors as physician resistance, reduced productivity and the challenge of EHR implementation itself also playing a part. Without federal assurance that patient data can be sent and received, though, it’s not hard to see why health care providers might resist.