Interoperability continues to improve among U.S. hospitals, but there’s still a way to go, according to new government data.
More than six in 10 hospitals shared health information electronically and integrated it into their electronic health records by 2021, a 51% increase since 2017, the Office of the National Coordinator released Thursday in a data brief.
The availability and use of electronic data received from external sources at the point of care has also increased over the past four years, reaching 62% and 71% respectively in 2021.
The brief illustrates the progress made in hospitals using electronic data to deliver care and sharing it with other providers outside their networks as facilities adopt state-certified EHRs and pivot to comply with interoperability regulations stemming from the Health Care Act. 21st century. However, inconsistencies between providers indicate ongoing challenges.
For example, rural and small hospitals increased rates of available electronic information at the point of care by more than 26% to 48% in 2021. In addition, rural and small hospitals’ use of information received electronically from outside facilities grew twice as as fast as all hospitals nationally over the four years studied.
But these smaller hospitals, which generally have fewer resources than their larger peers, are not on par with larger peers in terms of full access to electronic information from external sources, the report said.
Other obstacles to the exchange of information also remain tough. For example, 48% of hospitals said they shared patient data with other providers who do not share patient information with them.
The ONC also found that about four in 10 hospitals participate in various health information exchanges, or data sharing networks. The agency said the findings reinforce the need to have multiple networks on board, and the importance of policies that facilitate cross-network exchange, such as the Trusted Exchange Framework and Common Agreement launched last year.
TEFCA’s goal is to create a framework for nationwide data exchange, though its voluntary nature has raised concerns about industry buy-in. However, a number of entities have applied or said they plan to apply to be certified as qualified health information networks in TEFCA, including EHR giant Epic and existing HIEs such as Carequality and eHealth Exchange.
Regulators are still working to implement provisions of 21st Century Cures, including potential penalties for providers and suppliers found to be information blocked.
The government is authorized by law to issue up to $1 million in civil monetary penalties against IT providers found guilty of information blocking. However, regulators have yet to finalize a rule proposed in 2020 that outlines how their investigations will be conducted and the size of penalties. In addition, HHS has yet to define penalties for providers who block the free flow of information due to complexity of enforcement, ONC chief Micky Tripathi told Healthcare Dive in December.