A large coalition of providers, software vendors, health information exchanges, states and public agencies has launched a program to develop test standards to certify electronic health record and HIE products that use a standardized method for exchanging health information.

The goal is plug-and-play HIE, with initial benefits expected to be seen within nine to 12 months. The initiative will expand work done by the Nationwide Health Information Network Exchange, a program within the Office of the National Coordinator for HIT that brought together stakeholders to test a common set of specifications for information exchange.

The ONC program now has transitioned to eHealth Exchange, a public-private organization with 34 members representing hundreds of hospitals and thousands of providers, and serving millions of patients. The eHealth Exchange’s partner  in the new plug-and-play initiative is the EHR/HIE Interoperability Workgroup of the New York eHealth Collaborative, which in the past 18 months has developed a number of technological and test specifications for interoperable exchange among disparate I.T. systems and HIEs. Another organization, called Healtheway, provides operational support to eHealth Exchange.

“The coalition harmonized a set of functional, technical and test specifications that enable true plug-and-play connectivity to simplify EHR and HIE development,” according to an explanation from the organizations. “The coalition’s work covers the ability to send and receive encrypted health information over the Internet, lookup and retrieve patient records, and produce a tightly constrained patient record summary which reduces variances and implementation-specific customization.”

The coalition has selected the Certification Commission for Health Information Technology as the compliance testing entity. CCHIT will certify that interfaces between HIT systems and HIEs are consistent across multiple states and systems. CCHIT is developing the testing software, using open source components, with AEGIS.net Inc., a consultancy. It expects to launch the testing program in January 2013.

At least 37 vendors and 34 HIEs have agreed to have their technology tested for meeting the interoperability specifications, and at least 15 states have agreed to promote the value of certified EHRs and HIEs.

The interoperability certification program is separate from the federally contracted services of CCHIT and several other firms to certify electronic health records as supporting meaningful use requirements.

More information on the initiative is available at hiehitnews.org.

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