This post continues last week’s discussion about EHR interoperability and the future of Health Information Exchange.

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The Health Information Exchange from healthIT.gov

The future of Health Information Exchange

In January, the ONC released a 10-year roadmap on nationwide health IT interoperability, setting goals and visions for industry progress. “By 2024, individuals, care providers, communities, and researchers should have an array of interoperable health IT products and services that allow the health care system to continuously learn and advance the goal of improved health care.”

Shortly after releasing the roadmap, the ONC also announced another $28 million in HIE grants that will be available to at least 12 states. ONC funding through the State HIE Cooperative Agreement Program incentivized the creation of State HIEs starting in 2010, and continued funding is critical to get more providers to join. These grants suggest that states exchanges will continue to define EHR interoperability in the future.

But it’s not just the ONC and state exchanges that are shaping the future of HIE. Last December, the new  Argonaut Project brightened the future of HIE by promising to accelerate the development of a common data standard called FHIR. The standard is a product of HL7, an international non-profit devoted to developing health care interoperability standards, which has brought together the leading EHR vendors and hospital groups to speed development of FHIR.

FHIR is designed for easy implementation and flexible development within the existing ecosystem, and it is quickly becoming the de facto standard for Health IT. Just last week Accenture and Surescripts jumped on the bandwagon, further strengthening a collaboration between industry leaders that may put interoperability just over the horizon.

Interoperability was also a hot topic at the nation’s biggest annual health IT show, a conference by the Health Information Management and Systems Society that was held last week. This emphasis further suggests that interoperability is fast approaching through private sector initiative. But according to one attendees review, companies partnered through the Argonaut project made it clear at the conference that they are still competitors in the EHR market.

This was emphasized the week before the conference, when an ONC report to congress claimed that certain EHR vendors and providers are deliberately curtailing interoperability. While the ONC, state exchanges, and the private sector seem close to solving the EHR interoperability problem, how fast successful HIE is achieved may depend on how well market competitors can cooperate.