Interoperability continues to improve among U.S. hospitals, but there’s still a ways to go, according to new government data.
More than six in 10 hospitals electronically shared health information and integrated it into their electronic health records in 2021, up 51% since 2017, the Office of the National Coordinator released in a Thursday data brief.
The availability and usage of electronic data received from outside sources at the point of care has also increased over the last four years, reaching 62% and 71% respectively in 2021.
The brief illustrates the progress that’s been made in hospitals using electronic data to provide care, and sharing it with other providers outside of their networks, as facilties adopt government-certified EHRs and pivot to comply with interoperability regulations stemming from the 21st Century Cures Act. However, discrepancies among providers indicate ongoing challenges.
For example, rural and small hospitals saw rates of available electronic information at the point of care increase by more than 26%, to reach 48% in 2021. In addition, rural and small hospitals’ use of information received electronically from outside facilities grew twice as fast as all hospitals nationally over the four years studied.
But these smaller hospitals, which generally have fewer resources than their larger counterparts, aren’t on par with larger peers in terms of having full access to electronic information from external sources, the report said.
Other barriers to information exchange also remain sticky. For example, 48% of hospitals said they shared patient data with other providers who don’t share patient information with them.
The ONC also found that roughly four in 10 hospitals participate in multiple health information exchanges, or data-sharing networks. The agency said the findings reinforce the need to have multiple networks at play, and the importance of policies that facilitate cross-network exchange, such as the Trusted Exchange Framework and Common Agreement launched last year.
TEFCA’s goal is to create a framework for nationwide data exchange, though its voluntary nature has raised concerns about industry buy-in. However, a number of entities have applied or said they plan to apply to be certified as qualified health information networks in TEFCA, including EHR giant Epic and existing HIEs like Carequality and eHealth Exchange.
Regulators are still working to implement provisions of 21st Century Cures, including potential punishments for providers and vendors found information blocking.
The government is authorized by statute to issue up to $1 million in civil monetary penalties against health IT vendors found guilty of information blocking. However, regulators have yet to finalize a rule proposed in 2020 outlining how their investigations will be performed and the size of penalties. In addition, the HHS has yet to define penalties for providers found blocking the free flow of information due to enforcement complexity, ONC head Micky Tripathi has told Healthcare Dive in December.