Interoperability and the 21st Century Cures Act: A Quick Primer

Posted by Brooke Lester on Mar 17, 2021 4:40 PM

Two medical doctors discussing information on a tablet.

Healthcare interoperability remains a significant obstacle to providing healthcare providers, payers, and patients easy access to electronic healthcare records. However, the US government is trying to encourage greater healthcare interoperability through healthcare integration.

In this post, we’ll explore healthcare interoperability and the 21st Century Cures Act. We’ll look at how this legislation is being implemented to solve the problem of healthcare interoperability and the progress that’s been made so far. Gain a deeper understanding of Healthcare EDI. Download the ebook.

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What Is the 21st Century Cures Act?

The 21st Century Cures Act was passed into law at the end of December 2016. Its goal is to accelerate medical product development and to bring new innovations to patients in a faster and more efficient manner.

There are provisions in the law that pertain to healthcare interoperability, specifically regarding information blocking. Information blocking restricts access to information stored within Electronic Health Records (EHRs). It poses a significant obstacle to healthcare interoperability, because it means that EHRs can’t “talk” to one another, and it’s difficult for the people who need the information (healthcare providers, payers, researchers, and patients) to get the data they need.

“One of the aims of the 21st Century Cures Act is to increase healthcare interoperability”

To increase interoperability, the Office of the National Coordinator for Healthcare Information Technology (ONC) is leading the implementation of APIs to make healthcare information more accessible to the people who need it most. In addition, Congress has directed the ONC to create a Trusted Exchange Framework and Common Agreement (TEFCA) that will share healthcare information across disparate health information networks (HINs). HINs are digital networks of healthcare information.

Two medical doctors having a discussion.

What Is the TEFCA?

There are two parts of the TEFCA: the trusted exchange framework and the common agreement.

The trusted exchange framework describes a common set of principles that foster trust between HINs, while the common agreement provides the necessary governance to scale a functioning system of connected HINs. Ideally, this system of HINs will grow over time and will allow healthcare providers, payers, researchers, government officials, and patients to access the data they need.

Where Does Healthcare Interoperability and Healthcare Integration Stand Now?

Since the 21st Century Cures Act was enacted at the end of 2016, what progress has been made towards healthcare interoperability?

The first draft of the TEFCA was released in January 2018 so the public could comment on it. After reviewing all public comments submitted on the first draft, the ONC released a second draft of TEFA in April 2019. The ONC has not published a final draft of the TEFCA as of February 2021, although the agency did select a recognized coordinating entity to develop, update, implement, and maintain the Common Agreement and the Qualified Health Information Network Technical Framework. In May 2020, the ONC announced it would continue this public-private partnership as it works on the TEFCA further.

“The ONC will continue its public-private partnership as it works on the TEFCA further”

Healthcare interoperability remains a critical topic going into the future. To shepherd healthcare interoperability and healthcare integration further along, expect to see more legislation similar to the 21st Century Cures Act. Gain a deeper understanding of Healthcare EDI. Download the ebook.

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