In an effort to standardize the exchange of health information, Connecting for Health, a public-private collaborative of more than 100 organizations, recently released technical specifications and policy guidelines.
Dubbed the "Common Framework," the set of specifications is intended to provide the initial elements of a comprehensive approach to secure, authorized and private health information sharing. It includes 16 technical and policy components, which were developed by experts in IT, health privacy law and policy.
The elements of the framework being released include technical documents and specifications, testing interfaces and code, as well as a companion set of privacy and security policies and model contractual language to help organizations interested in information exchange move quickly towards the necessary legal agreements for private and secure health information sharing.
The Common Framework was developed and tested in three regions, Indianapolis, Boston, and Mendocino County, Calif., since mid-2005. Work on what has become the Common Framework was initiated in 2003.
"We have long believed that personal privacy and security, values that are prized by the American people, must inform the design and functionality of new health information-sharing networks," said Zoë Baird, president of the Markle Foundation, which leads and manages Connecting for Health, in New York.
"We put the patient at the center of this effort, and the Common Framework demonstrates that we can achieve state-of-the-art access to life-saving health information without sacrificing privacy and security," Baird said.
To protect privacy, the Connecting for Health Common Framework architecture recommends use of an RLS (record locator service), an index that identifies where specific patient records are kept, but not what information the records contain.
This approach allows records to be stored locally by doctors and hospitals and only shared electronically with other providers when appropriate and authorized by the patient. The Common Framework also relies on common, open Web standards, making this approach both affordable and achievable.
"We demonstrated the exchange of clinical information, by using a critical set of common, open technical standards," said Clay Shirky, who directs the technical work for Connecting for Health and teaches at New York University.
"The Common Framework avoids large-scale disruption and huge upfront capital investments by allowing the use of existing hardware and software. It is compatible with current methods of institutional and provider record keeping, while enabling existing systems to exchange information," Shirky said.