The National Association for Trusted Exchange has taken another step forward in building momentum for enabling consumers to access and control their healthcare information.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has become the newest member of NATE, a private-public program aims to make it easier for patients to securely access their records electronically and improve the health information exchange between data holders and healthcare consumers.

The VA becomes a significant partner for NATE; the federal agency has long championed the right of its patients to access their medical records. It developed the VA Blue Button, which helps veterans receiving care in the system to access their records and better manage healthcare needs.

NATE is working to advocate for the same kind of access for other patients. As a membership organization, it’s working to enable trusted exchange among organizations and individuals with different regulatory environments and exchange preferences.

By joining NATE and participating in the NATE Blue Button for Consumers Trust Bundle, the federal agency says it’s demonstrating that it wants to help veterans access their health records electronically as and send them to “the consumer-facing application of their choice.”

“The VA is currently testing functionality that enables veterans to share their health information with providers outside the VA and to integrate their data into a growing number of safe and secure health-related consumer applications,” says David Shulkin, MD. “Participating in NATE allows VA to continue to be a national leader in enabling our veteran patients to take control over their health information and become informed and active partners in their overall healthcare.”

Bloomberg file photo

With the VA’s Blue Button functionality, veterabs can download their recorda either as a PDF, text file or customizable Blue Button file. Vet can select the date range and the categories of information they wish to include. The medical information can be printed out, taken as an electronic copy to a next appointment or sent electronically in a secure message to the patient’s VA healthcare team.

The collaboration between NATE and the VA will produce policies and procedures for sharing health data with consumers outside of the health system through Direct Messaging and other electronic protocols, such as application programming interfaces (APIs).

NATE CEO Aaron Seib said the VA is “leading the way” for health delivery systems as they “step up and talk about how to scale.” He estimated that by 2018, there will be more APIs in use that will enable consumers to access their medical information from providers’ records systems.

Seib said NATE uses a “registry that helps the disclosing EMR recognize consumer-controlled applications and differentiate them from bad actors.”

And as public access to EMRs becomes more prevalent, NATE works to create a private, secure exchange that enables those EMRs to exchange with their patients. “The biggest danger we have right now is the fear of identity theft,” Seib said.

By evaluating the secure exchange of medical records via APIs, NATE is making it easier for consumers to adopt this practice rather than have medical information sent to an insecure email account.

The VA membership in NATE “represents yet another step toward the use of technology and health information that is accessible when and where it matters most – information that can be used to achieve the full benefits of person-centered health IT,” says Gail Kalbfleisch, director of the Federal Health Architecture.

The announcement of the VA membership is the second significant sign of growth for NATE in recent weeks. In early May, the CommonWell Health Alliance and NATE announced that they had signed a reciprocal membership agreement and that the two groups will begin working together immediately.

According to a statement issued by CommonWell and NATE, the objective of the agreement is to “establish a mutual synergistic and complementary relationship with the goal of enhancing cross-vendor interoperability to better assure provider and patient access to health data, regardless of where care occurs.”

“Our organizations agree that patients should be at the center of their healthcare and that their providers can be empowered to deliver care that is informed by secure and authorized access to that patient’s data, no matter where care has occurred,” said Nick Knowlton, membership committee chair for CommonWell and vice president for software vendor Brightree.

CommonWell, a consortium of health IT vendors, is working to solve the challenges of HIT interoperability by breaking down the barriers to nationwide data exchange through defining and promoting a national infrastructure with common standards and policies. The group says its members represent 72 percent of the acute care electronic health record market and 37 percent of the ambulatory care EHR market.

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