ONCHIT to issue state info-sharing recommendations

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In an effort to resolve policy differences among states on sharing electronic health information, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONCHIT) will release recommendations for handling interstate sharing next month from the Health Information Security and Privacy Collaboration (HISPC).

Forty-two states have reconciled differences in their policies for handling health information, and at a conference last week, state officials said their efforts have laid the groundwork for interstate sharing that could speed the use of healthcare IT funds from the economic stimulus package, according to Government Health IT.

ONCHIT said it will release the tools and recommendations of seven workgroups that have focused on information sharing hurdles related to patient consent, privacy, provider education, security standards and other issues.

In one project, a team evaluated six states' requirements for audits and authentication, recommending common requirements for sharing health data among organizations, health information exchanges and the Nationwide Health Information Network (NHIN).

The project tested different ways to report lab results and manage medication and came up with a tool to negotiate minimum acceptable requirements for sharing lab and medication data among states, said Francesca Lanier, HISPC project director at the Utah Department of Health, reported Government Health IT.

The next steps will include monitoring use of the policies, expanding the number of transactions, and organizing a clearinghouse for information about standards.

However, some observers expressed concern that focusing on the lowest common denominator when creating policies might remove incentives for building the strongest possible security and privacy agreements.

Project members had to make certain trade-offs between requiring higher security levels and getting healthcare IT systems up and running, however, their findings urge healthcare organizations to go further if possible, according to Government Health IT.