An interoperability document from the ONC and the nonprofit Sequoia Project, released Tuesday, outlines the legal and technical principles of a network that allows state, state, and national health information networks to share data.
Health information networks will be able to apply to organizations that facilitate data sharing on the TEFCA network later this year, possibly as early as this quarter, as previously pointed out by the ONC.
TEFCA is “critical to realizing the goal of the 21st century Drug Act to create a secure, nationwide infrastructure for the exchange of health information,” said ONC head Mickey Tripathi. news release. “Simplified nationwide connectivity for health care providers, health plans, individuals and public health is finally available.”
The TEFCA voluntary program establishes federally recognized data exchange standards for health information networks. Health information networks, designated as Qualified Health Information Networks or QHINs, will connect with each other and route data requests and responses between providers and health plans.
TEFCA has two main components. The first is the Trusted Exchange Framework, which defines common standards for qualified health information networks. The second is the “General Agreement,” a contract that participating networks sign with the Sequoia Project. ONC engaged the Sequoia Project to develop and implement TEFCA in 2019.
In essence, according to an ONC press release, TEFCA serves as “generally accepted rules of the road” for health information networks in the US. This includes technical standards related to privacy and security, as well as approaches to identifying network members and patients before sharing data.
“Today’s release of TEFCA marks the start of the implementation phase,” Sequoia Project CEO Marianne Yeager said in a press release. “We look forward to everyone’s support as they revisit the General Agreement and define their role in this new public-private paradigm advancing health information sharing across the country.”
According to data summary ONC published last year. Nearly half of the hospitals used more than one national network, and 53% used a state, state, or local health information network to search for patient data.
The Treatment Act passed by President Barack Obama in 2016 requires the ONC to develop TEFCA. The agency published two draft policies during Donald Trump’s presidency, and the ONC made further changes to it after President Joe Biden took office.
In connection with the release of the framework, the Sequoia project released three year roadmap about how TEFCA will adopt Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources, a popular data exchange standard. This standard works in conjunction with the accompanying ONC Interactions with Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that went into effect last year.
In the near future, the Sequoia project plans to create working groups that will develop ways to include healthcare interoperability resources in the General Agreement, and also intend to include healthcare interoperability resources as an optional additional standard for qualified information networks next year. The Sequoia Project is expected to make Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources mandatory in 2024.
This preliminary schedule is likely to be adjusted as the Sequoia project evaluates feedback, implementation experience, and market needs, the organization says.
“The healthcare information technology landscape continues to evolve, and TEFCA will have to evolve with it to continue adding value and, more importantly, not holding back industry progress,” says the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources roadmap.