I had the opportunity to travel to San Antonio for this year’s Civitas Networks for Health Conference, a collaborative event with DirectTrust™. The conference theme was “Health Data Collaboratives and Information Exchange to Advance Health Equity”. Sessions primarily focused on healthcare interoperability and clinical data sharing, and featured Health Information Exchanges (HIEs) speaking to various use cases and value propositions. One of the many topics of interest to me was the concept of an HIE as a health data utility (HDU). The idea behind this is that a gap exists between public health agencies and healthcare organizations, and that an HDU can be thought of as a mechanism to bridge that gap.
What is a Health Data Utility?
The idea of a health data utility is new and so definitions continue to emerge. During a roundtable discussion in February 2022, The Civitas Networks for Health illustrated an emerging definition: “Health Data Utilities (HDUs) are statewide entities that combine, enhance, and exchange electronic health data across care and services settings for treatment, quality improvement, and public and community health purposes through specific, defined use cases in accordance with applicable state and federal laws protecting patient privacy.” While HIEs have played an important role in filling the interoperability gaps within our communities, the pandemic highlighted marked gaps in policy and technology between the general healthcare ecosystem and public health agencies. And it is this policy and technology gap where the concept of an HIE as an HDU takes hold.
The Benefits of a Health Data Utility
An HDU brings a significant amount of information technology expertise to public health. This includes enhancing the overall effectiveness of areas such as data aggregation, analysis, reporting, and interoperability. HDUs can potentially do things like aggregating clinical and claims data within a state, and combining the data with that from state registries and other reportable events, with a goal towards improving public health. Physicians can then access this data in the field, thereby making treatment plans more effective and improving outcomes within a community. The concepts around facilitating the flow of data throughout a community between healthcare organizations and public health agencies, then subsequently enhancing aggregated data for either treatment or public health purposes, is the value proposition for an HDU.
Think about getting aggregated de-identified clinical data from an EMS or police department into the repository of a public health agency, or getting actionable disease surveillance data from a public health agency into the hands of a physician on the ground treating a patient in real time. I’ll cover this in a little more detail in the next section.
HDUs in Action
To elaborate on the scenario above, let’s discuss a use case that involves an EMS clinician. While administering care to a patient in the field, this clinician is utilizing a mobile, handheld device to transmit clinical data to a public health agency for disease surveillance. The public health agency will utilize the health data utility to receive and process this incoming data for analysis and reporting, disseminating back to the community. This is just one example of how an HDU can serve as a bridge between providers (in this case, the EMS clinicians) and a public health agency.
In summary, HDUs act as a public health intermediary, receiving, normalizing, aggregating, de-identifying, and disseminating actionable data in real time. This is much like a public water company ensuring the constant flow of clean drinking water—providing an infrastructure to receive, purify, and distribute potable water to the service area for the benefit of the community.
Challenge Within a Challenging Vertical
For a health data utility to successfully fulfill its purpose, it must rapidly, securely, and compliantly execute large-scale retrieval and dissemination of data from multiple external endpoints within a community. Each endpoint tends to utilize a different platform to receive and transmit clinical data, which adds to the overall challenge because these platforms don’t always “talk” with one another. To facilitate this type of data flow, a technology platform is required to couple the different endpoints and to secure the data during transit. The security of PHI while in motion is paramount to ensure the confidentiality and privacy of the patient. HDUs will require scalable platforms that meet the growing quantity of data being generated, while simultaneously mitigating the risk of unauthorized data disclosure during transit.
One solution to this overall challenge is a secure message center, which enables individuals, and organizations with multiple endpoints, to securely and compliantly send and receive clinical information in real time.
DataMotion has led the industry in secure and compliant exchange for over 20 years. Our secure message center enables the frictionless, secure, and compliant flow of sensitive information among disparate individuals and organizations. Within healthcare, we also operate as a Health Information Services Provider (HISP) where our platform serves as an on-ramp to the DirectTrust Network. During the COVID-19 pandemic, for instance, our HISP enabled the large-scale transmission of electronic case reports from healthcare providers across the nation.
The Civitas conference has always been a favorite of mine and this year’s event did not disappoint. I always find this event to be time well spent with colleagues across the country to discuss this particularly important topic of healthcare interoperability. We look forward to further engagement with the Civitas community to assist in furthering efforts to broaden and deepen interoperability among stakeholders and most importantly, helping to connect endpoints between the public and private healthcare systems across the nation.
I welcome the opportunity to discuss how DataMotion can help your healthcare organization. Please feel free to set up an introductory chat using my calendar link.
Looking forward to next year’s conference!