ONC debuts first cohort of qualified networks in TEFCA, including Epic, eHealth Exchange
- On Monday, the HHS unveiled the first six networks that have been approved to be onboarded as qualified health information networks, or QHINs, under TEFCA, the government’s framework for a nationwide health information exchange.
- It’s been about a year since the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT released TEFCA, or the Trusted Exchange Framework and Common Agreement. Now, Epic, CommonWell Health Alliance, eHealth Exchange, Health Gorilla, Kno2 and Konza — organizations that collectively cover a significant swath of American health records — have committed to become eligible and go live within TEFCA in 12 months.
- A number of additional organizations are readying themselves to apply into the voluntary framework, said Mariann Yeager, CEO of the Sequoia Project, ONC’s private-sector coordinating partner for TEFCA, at a Monday HHS event. “This is just the beginning,” Yeager said.
Interoperability is critical for national healthcare infrastructure, HHS officials said Monday, and improving it will bring down costs while also improving care delivery.
Bringing the new prospective QHINs on board is a great start to improving the U.S. healthcare systems’ interoperability, but there’s a lot more work to do to address the digital divide between well-resourced and struggling providers, a lack of connectivity with public health agencies, sparse information sharing between payers and providers and little patient access to their own information, ONC head Micky Tripathi said.
“Our vision is that TEFCA can get us out of the collective shared helplessness that we’re in,” Tripathi said.
The 21st Century Cures Act passed in 2016 required the government to create a set of foundational principles for health information exchange, under a contract establishing a technical infrastructure model and governing approach.
TEFCA’s goal is to create a simplified and standardized connectivity infrastructure for providers, plans, patients and public health agencies. The effort builds on the progress of national networks, state and regional health information exchanges that facilitate secure exchanges of millions of medical documents each day.
The Biden administration early last year finalized TEFCA and opened a window for organizations to apply to be designated as QHINs, or groups of organizations that agree to the same data sharing infrastructure. That connects them to one another and enables their participants, including providers, payers and public health agencies, to exchange health information across the country.
The six potential QHINs unveiled Monday have 12 months to be onboarded, but that work could be done by the end of 2023, Tripathi said. Some of the QHINs, including electronic health record giant Epic, had already announced their intention to join.
The number of QHINs isn’t set in stone. An HHS spokesperson told Healthcare Dive they “continue to receive interest from a diverse range of organizations,” including health information networks and EHR vendors.
But the six organizations alone cover a significant number of Americans. Though it’s difficult to pin down an exact number given the overlap in covered lives, collectively the QHIN applicants have networks that cover most U.S. hospitals and tens of thousands of providers, and process billions of transactions annually across all fifty states, the ONC said.
Moving forward, the ONC plans to announce additional QHINs when they're designated.