NHIN gets first test-run

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NHIN gets its first launch among govt departments. Image Source: Health and Human Services Department  

The Nationwide Health Information Network (NHIN) will get its first real-world test early next year when the Social Security Administration (SSA) begins using it to access EMRs held by a private health information exchange (HIE), according to NHIN planners and SSA officials.

The SSA will use the data to help it adjudicate applications for disability assistance and speed those benefits to qualified recipients, according to Government Health IT.

The SSA project will not have direct clinical payoff the Health and Human Services Department envisioned when it drafted plans for a secure, interoperable national health network. However, SSA’s secondary use of the health information nonetheless marks the onset of NHIN’s production phase.

“This will have a huge impact on this agency and the people we serve,” said Bill Gray, SSA’s deputy commissioner for systems, at the NHIN Forum in Washington this week.

At the heart of the rollout is SSA’s use of a federal NHIN gateway to receive medical information held by MedVirginia, an HIE based in Richmond, Va., Government Health IT reported. When someone seeks disability benefits, SSA will contact MedVirginia, show authorization from the patient and electronically access the appropriate health records from the beneficiary’s provider.

Although MedVirginia will be the first user of the network via the federal NHIN gateway, SSA said it is also working with the North Carolina Healthcare Information and Communications Alliance, based in Research Triangle Park, N.C., and Kaiser Permanente to access applicants’ records.

Direct access to those records is expected to streamline the agency’s claims-application process and speed approval and disbursement of disability benefits, which total about $60 billion every month. In the past, processing those applications was time-consuming and labor-intensive. As baby boomers age and disability applications increase, SSA must improve its efficiency or risk being buried in an administrative avalanche.

“Social Security is proud to be a leader in the use of health information technology," said SSA Commissioner Michael Astrue. "This safe and secure method for receiving electronic medical records will allow us to improve our service to the public by cutting days, if not weeks, off the time it takes to make a disability decision.”