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NGA Publishes State Road Map for Secure Health Data Exchange

In an effort to improve the policies and security around health data exchange between states, the National Governor’s Association published a roadmap.

Under an agreement with the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC), the National Governors Association (NGA) released guidance with potential steps that could improve the flow of electronic health information within, and among states.

States need secure health data exchange, NGA explains in road map

Ensuring secure health data exchange will help the nation move towards an interoperable system that keeps data accessible to individuals and their care providers, according to ONC.

Titled, “Getting the Right Information to the Right Health Care Providers at the Right Time: A Road Map for States to Improve Health Information Flow Between Providers,” the publication was designed to encourage and assist governors and senior state leaders “to drive forward policies that support the seamless flow of clinical patient health care information between providers while protecting patient privacy,” NGA explained in a statement.

“The United States has experienced significant advancements in medical diagnostics and treatments for complex health problems in recent years; however, health care still lags far behind other sectors of the economy in the exchange of information to improve efficiency,” said an NGA summary. “Due to a variety of legal and market-based barriers, exchange of clinical health information between providers often does not occur, or occurs in a manner that does not allow for meaningful use of data to support optimal patient care.”

There needs to be a smooth flow of information between providers, NGA added.

Clinical health data exchange is critical to ensuring that the best information possible is available to help providers make patient care decisions, minimize repetition and errors, ensure high-quality transitions of care, and lower costs.

The road map breaks down five key steps that states need to take to increase the information flow between healthcare providers:

  • Assemble core team
  • Conduct legal and market analyses
  • Determine primary barriers
  • Select strategies
  • Implement and evaluate

For legal barriers specifically, NGA explained in the report that states need to fully align, or partially align, their state privacy laws with HIPAA regulations.

“Pass a law that supersedes all more restrictive state privacy laws to allow providers and hospitals to exchange information in accordance with HIPAA,” the report’s authors recommended. “Amend select statutes to allow certain types of information, such as information exchanged electronically, to be exchanged in accordance with HIPAA.”

Additionally, states should create one standardized consent form that will simplify how providers gain a patient’s permission for sharing data.

Guidance and education also needs to be issued to providers, so they understand how to comply with state and federal law. This includes clarifying legal intent and addressing common misconceptions, NGA advised.  

“The path to interoperability is not linear; every state is starting from a different statutory, market and infrastructure standpoint and will have different goals to achieve and obstacles to overcome,” the report stated. “As a result, each state can adapt the steps in the road map to meet its individual needs.”

ONC Chief Privacy Officer Lucia Savage and Senior Privacy Policy Analyst Peyton Isaac wrote in an ONC blog post that the agency was thrilled with the roadmap’s release. ONC had previously awarded NGA with a cooperative funding agreement to identify ways to improve the flow of electronic health information.

“The NGA road map helps states evaluate their own legal and regulatory privacy landscapes, identifies best practices states can learn from each other, and enables states to take decisive steps to improve the availability of electronic health information while simultaneously protecting patient privacy,” the duo wrote. “In addition, NGA also found that key market issues are negatively impacting whether health information exchange is occurring.”

NGA has also started to assist some states in executing the road map’s recommendations, Savage and Isaac noted, and will issue a report next year on that process.

“We look forward to continued collaboration with NGA and state governments, policymakers, and private sector health care leaders to alleviate privacy policy barriers in order to achieve our vision of truly seamless and secure flow of electronic health information when and where it matters most for individuals, clinicians, and communities across the country.”

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