- EHR giant Epic has pledged to join the government’s voluntary nationwide data-sharing framework. The addition is a major get for the new network and bodes well for industry uptake — Epic is the largest medical software vendor in the U.S. hospital market.
- Epic announced it plans to join the Trusted Exchange Framework and Common Agreement, the government’s road map to create a standard connectivity infrastructure for providers, plans, patients and public health agencies, when the application process to become a qualified health information network, or QHIN, opens later this year.
- The EHR vendor has historically been critical of government interventions to improve interoperability, notably opposing twin HHS regulations promoting data sharing in early 2020. But Epic is interested in TEFCA due to its private-sector-friendly nature and focus on privacy, Matt Doyle, Epic’s R&D team lead and software development team leader for interoperability, told Healthcare Dive.
The goal of TEFCA, which the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT finalized in February, is to eliminate individual legal agreements between healthcare organizations by instituting one common agreement that qualified networks and their participants sign onto, paring back on administrative burden.
The framework standardizes the operational side of data exchange, while raising the privacy and security bar for entities that want to be certified as QHINs, groups of organizations that agree to the same data-sharing infrastructure.
The government hasn’t mandated or incentivized participation in TEFCA, which some experts worried might hamstring buy-in and efficacy of the fledgling network.
How much TEFCA can move the needle on the healthcare industry’s notoriously ineffective data-sharing remains to be seen. But with the addition of Epic, the ONC now has a significant partner.
If the EHR vendor is certified as a QHIN, its community of roughly 2,000 hospitals and 45,000 clinics will have the ability to join the nationwide framework and share data between all qualified networks within it.
Epic worked with the ONC, its private-sector partner the Sequoia Project, and the broader health IT community in building consensus around TEFCA’s standards and procedures as the framework was being developed.
The vendor is currently working to research and develop a platform that supports the exchange of information between its clients and other participating networks in TEFCA, Doyle said.
Epic plans to apply for certification with the first tranche of QHINs, expected sometime later this year or early next year.
“We have a significant R&D footprint in interoperability that includes the work we’re doing for TEFCA,” Doyle said. Epic is still finishing up project planning, but plans to redirect a number of staff to TEFCA, which “will be one of our more significant interoperability projects.”
The vendor’s pivot to supporting a government push to improve interoperability is notable. Epic has been criticized for having smooth data-sharing within its own Epic-branded systems, but difficulties exchanging data with its competitors.
The company previously campaigned to stop sweeping HHS regulations promoting interoperability, or at least ease their data-sharing requirements, citing privacy and security concerns. Those rules were finalized two years ago and their provisions began kicking in over the pandemic.
TEFCA is attractive to Epic due to its history of working with federal partners — the vendor has exchanged medical records with the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs since 2011 — and the fact that the ONC built a number of privacy protections into TEFCA founded in the HIPAA privacy law, Doyle said.
And “the ONC has been very open to feedback ... and not reinventing the wheel, but rather scaling up successes the industry’s already seen,” Doyle said.