The Path To Better Management Of Healthcare Data

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Blockchain, cloud computing and other technologies are moving further into the world of healthcare data, promising to change everything from patient management to medical payments. Now a U.S.-based organization hopes to get ahead of that curve by offering a new accreditation program designed to boost data security and access in the healthcare industry.

The Electronic Healthcare Network Accreditation Commission (EHNAC) said on Tuesday (May 15) that its new Trusted Exchange Accreditation Program (TEAP) “will leverage existing industry-wide identity verification, authentication and privacy/security frameworks and best practices in use across the ecosystem,” according to a press release. TEAP will “align with many national efforts” to improve data exchange and enable interoperability across different health information networks.”

That might sound more than a bit bureaucratic, but the mission has a grand scope. EHNAC intends to bring together people from across the healthcare industry to figure out how to best speed up its information machinery. Increasing the efficiency of access to that data — and securing it from misuse — can lead to better care and lower costs for healthcare providers and consumers, according to analysts and other experts.

“We need to leverage what’s working today in regard to frameworks, standards and best practices, and work collaboratively to create a program” that aligns with “enabling technologies” such as blockchain, said Lee Barrett, executive director of EHNAC.

The voluntary, self-governing group includes members involved in healthcare payments, financial services, management, information exchange and other tasks that support direct patient care. EHNAC said it will soon assemble a 10-to-15 person steering committee to guide the new accreditation program.

The launch of TEAP comes amid a time of more focus on the security and interoperability of healthcare data. For instance, a U.S. law enacted in late 2016 — the 21st Century Cures Act — calls on federal agencies, including the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), to help promote more efficient data sharing among healthcare industry players.

Additionally, the Trusted Exchange Framework and Common Agreement, from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is designed to “enable providers, hospitals and other healthcare stakeholders to join any health information network and then to automatically connect and participate in nationwide health information exchange,” according to Dan Golder of Impact Advisors, a healthcare consulting firm, in a blog post from earlier this year.

All that serves as the motivation behind TEAP, Barrett said. “The industry is looking for additional guidance and assistance as the digital highway for exchange of information continues to grow exponentially,” he said Tuesday. “Cyber threats and HIPPA breaches continue at a very high rate, and the need to assure stakeholder trust of data is crucial.”

Management of data always touches upon issues of payment. That rule holds especially true in the healthcare world, where an estimated 10 percent of the $3.4 trillion in healthcare payments is wasted via inefficient processing, according to InstaMed. TEAP will not be able to ignore payments — though efforts there might leave some in the industry feeling impatient or frustrated, at least initially.

Barrett said a stronger focus via TEAP on data privacy, security and access could eventually result in quicker payment processing, a problem that often comes across as the whale no captain can ever catch. “Unfortunately, the issues of payments and how they are processed will not be corrected and addressed as quickly as we would all like,” he said.

But even in the short term, TEAP participants likely will enjoy benefits as the program works toward reducing confusion about data collection standards and “assuring continued alignment with the federal (data) roadmap,” Barrett said — all of which would help boost “patient confidence” in the healthcare system, he added.

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