ONC pushing HIEs to test metadata standards

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT is testing out metadata standards that state health information exchanges will use for patient information queries and personal health information data security.

ONC director Farzad Motashari announced late last week that Indiana and Montana will test metadata standards for information queries and data security through the fall. The agency asked for public comment on general metadata standards in a proposed rulemaking Aug. 9, but is moving ahead with testing in those two areas.

Metadata standards, which describe or identify data in a standard way, are key to HIEs' ability to share and understand data from disparate hospital systems.

The "query initiative" will define the standards needed for hospitals to send population-level health queries to multiple HIE partners through a standard interface, and receive secure responses in return. The query data ultimately will be used to set healthcare quality measures, among other things, according to Motashari.

On the data security side, ONC is testing the ways that HIEs can segment sensitive patient health information, such as data about a patient's substance abuse history. For example, HIEs might meta-tag particular data types, which can be segregated if the patient requests that they be kept confidential.

ONC officials also indicated they're pushing states to test out ways to not only get better control over shared patient data themselves, but to give patients "a more granular level of control" over their own data. It's unclear yet exactly what level of control the ONC will want to give to patients.

The money appears to be flowing for all this testing and HIE buildout. ONC announced a little more than a week ago that it had distributed more than $185 million in "exchange establishment" grants to 13 states. The grants are intended for states like Indiana and Montana, that are beyond the planning stage and are ready to get started building their HIEs, according to a Health Data Management.

To learn more:
- read Government Health IT's story
- check out Health Data Management's coverage
- here's the ONC's announcement

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