HHS releases long-awaited electronic health info sharing framework

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The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT released the long-awaited Trusted Exchange Framework and Common Agreement on Tuesday.

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) announced the completion of a framework to allow electronic health information to be more easily shared among providers and individuals themselves in a blog post on Tuesday.

The accomplishment is touted by officials as "the beginning of a new era of electronic health information exchange in the U.S." 

The Trusted Exchange Framework and Common Agreement (TEFCA) has been in the works for years, first mandated by the 21st Century Cures Act, passed in 2016. The final document is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Jan. 19. 

The document includes the framework, or principles guiding the sharing of health information, and a template for the common agreement, or contract, to operationalize the framework by baselining technical infrastructure and governance. 

The hope is that establishing universal policy and tech standards can give the interoperability for healthcare information to be more easily shared with patients and healthcare providers. 

For example, one principle the framework establishes is collaboration among stakeholders. The document specifically states that health information networks shouldn't "seek to gain competitive advantage… by limiting access to individuals' digital health information."

It continues to specifically call out fees and other costs - things that could potentially be roadblocks to sharing across networks - and says that they should be "reasonable" and not interfere with health information sharing.

Micky Tripathi, head of the ONC, a unit within the Department of Health and Human Services charged with overseeing national efforts on health IT and data exchange, and Mariann Yeager, CEO of the Sequoia Project, a nonprofit public-private partnership tapped to coordinate TEFCA implementation, released a blog post commemorating TEFCA's release. 

"Within the health information technology (health IT) world, few things have been as elusive as a governance framework for nationwide health information exchange," they wrote. "When ONC was formed in 2004, the concept of a nationwide health information network—where your information could be located across the country in a click—was a big picture vision that drove the federal government's early health IT infrastructure, standards, policy actions, and investments."

The Sequoia Project is charged with maintaining the common agreement and the technical framework for participating health information networks.