HHS seeking solutions to address FISMA compliance for health exchange

Health and Human Services Department official calls FISMA a hurdle to patient data exchange

Health and Human Services Department officials are looking for information technology solutions that comply with a key federal cybersecurity law while also allowing for exchange of federal health data with private entities, a senior health data exchange official said today.

Currently, federal medical agencies that handle patient data must comply with the Federal Information Security Management Act. If they want to share that data, the recipients also may need to comply with FISMA, according to Vish Sankaran, program director of HHS’ Federal Health Architecture. Similar issues apply to compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act , he added.

Sankaran said federal agencies are looking for guidance and solutions to enable them to exchange patient data while also maintaining compliance with FISMA.

One possibility being considered is a legal mechanism that may involve the patient authorizing transfer of the data so that it is no longer federal data, he suggested. The department also is considering technical solutions, such as use of intermediaries, cloud computing or Software as a Service, which might allow for FISMA compliance with both sender and recipient.

The federal health architecture office, which is part of HHS’ Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, has been working to develop health data exchange with 20 federal agencies on the Nationwide Health Information Network, currently a pilot project. The office also has developed free open-source software, known as Connect, enabling parties to connect to the NHIN.

Next year, the office will release the third update of Connect, which can be used, in conjunction with Electronic Health Records, to fulfill the meaningful use standards of the economic stimulus law, Sankaran said.

Currently, the Social Security Administration is demonstrating secure exchange on the NHIN, and Sankaran said his office is preparing to offer several contracts for NHIN technical support that will help move the NHIN to full production.

In December, the national coordinator’s office will begin distributing $564 million in grants for state-based Health Information Exchanges, which will eventually be linked with the NHIN as well.

In early 2010, the office will release Connect 3.0, which can be used, in conjunction with electronic health records, to fulfill the meaningful use standards of the economic stimulus law, Sankaran said. Under the law, HHS will distribute $19 billion to doctors and hospitals that purchase certified electronic record systems and demonstrate meaningful use of those systems.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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