HHS names health exchanges for secondary-use trial

The Health and Human Services Department chose two organizations to work with the Social Security Administration to demonstrate how information technology might be best used to speed the evaluation and delivery of disability benefits to consumers.

The North Carolina Healthcare Information and Communications Alliance, a nonprofit consortium based in Research Triangle Park, N.C., and MedVirginia, a Richmond, Va.-based health information exchange, were picked to participate in a use case or technical scenario with SSA designed to show the authorization and transfer of electronic health records to a benefits agency.

The two were chosen from among nine HIEs that were awarded trial implementation contracts in 2007 as part of the Nationwide Health Information Network (NHIN).

“The core infrastructure of NHIN has a lot of potential uses and one of those is the opportunity to support more rapid evaluation of disability information at the SSA,” said Dr. John Loonsk, director of interoperability and standards in the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT.

“There is an existing paper process in use, and with that comes inevitable delays,” he said. “We used the NHIN to put into place an electronic system that can improve those problems.”

After SSA expressed interest in collaborating on the project, HHS asked all nine participants to volunteer for the use case if they felt they were prepared to work effectively on it, Loonsk said. Officials at the North Carolina alliance framed their participation as a way to improve benefits and disability support for the state’s military veterans, he added.

“This use case is particularly important to North Carolina because of the significant military population in our state,” said Holt Anderson, executive director of the alliance, in a prepared statement.

“Our goal is to focus on disability evaluations of veterans by the Social Security Administration and to ensure that our returning veterans are getting the help they need in a more timely manner,” he added.

When a consumer from one of the two regions seeks out disability benefits, SSA will reach out to one of the HIEs, show authorization from the patient and electronically access the appropriate health records from providers, via the North Carolina alliance or MedVirginia. At this point, Loonsk said, they are establishing the systems needed to exchange data, and they will be in production soon.

“We can take advantage of secure electronic technology to make the evaluation process much faster and allow for more rapid distribution of benefits,” he said.

There are seven other use cases that are part of the NHIN trial implementation, including several that focus on delivering patient data in electronic health records, biosurveillance, emergency health records and quality of care, Loonsk said.

About the Author

Maureen McKinney is a freelance writer based in Chicago, Ill.

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