The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT wants to boost new opportunities to put healthcare data to work via existing state and local health information exchanges – and will be spending $2.5 million earmarked by Congress through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act to do so.
WHY IT MATTERS
Through its new Strengthening the Technical Advancement and Readiness of Public Health Agencies via Health Information Exchange (STAR HIE) program, ONC aims to “leverage work done by the industry to advance HIE services for the benefit of public health.”
The goal of the program is to bolster existing state and local HIE infrastructure so public health agencies are able to better access, share and use health data, during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
ONC will disburse $2.5 million from the CARES Act for as many as five cooperative agreements, which it says should be focused on improving HIE services such as last-mile connectivity and, especially, data services in support of state and local public health agencies.
“Applicants must describe how they would deploy services or functionalities to enable, enhance, or increase the use of health information exchange among relevant entities, including providers who care for vulnerable or at-risk populations,” said ONC officials about the new funding opportunity, applications for which are due by September 1.
“Applicants must describe how their activities under the cooperative agreement address communities disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, including as it relates to the stratifying factors of age, race, ethnicity, disability, and sex. The outcome of achieving this objective will be to increase public health understanding of how COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted various communities and increase the capability of public health agencies and the health care system to respond to that impact.”
THE LARGER TREND
Just this week at the ONC Tech Forum, National Coordinator for Health IT Dr. Donald Rucker sang the praises of state and local HIEs and what they can bring to the challenge of coordinating response to COVID-19.
“For a lot of questions, the HIEs have longitudinal data,” he explained. “That’s really very powerful to answer a set of clinical questions that goes beyond things like how many tests were done or how many people are in an ICU.”
“The longitudinal data can answer questions like, ‘What’s the time course from when somebody turns positive to when the test turns negative? The shape of the curve over the population, from when folks turn positive to they develop immunity? What is the rate of reinfection? What are associated complications?’ I think there are some very powerful things that are possible in this HIE world.”
At the same ONC forum on Monday, experts offered their perspective on the unique security imperatives presented by HIEs.
“You should be constantly thinking about how to map what an HIE does, and what it is, to our security base: confidentiality, integrity and availability.” said Jenn Behrens, chief information security officer at San Diego Health Connect.
ON THE RECORD
“State and local HIEs play a unique role in their communities by uniting health information from many different sites of service, including providers, hospitals, nursing homes, clinical laboratories, and public health departments, making them a natural fit to deliver innovative, local ‘last mile’ approaches to strengthen our overall public health response,” said Rucker today in a statement announcing the funding opportunity – which he said would “invest in infrastructure and data services for HIEs that provide critical real-time information to communities at the frontlines of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
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