On Monday, HHS and the Department of Veterans Affairs announced that they have demonstrated the successful use of metadata tagging in the exchange of patient health data, Modern Healthcare reports (Conn, Modern Healthcare, 9/17).
Background on Metadata
In August 2011, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT released for public comment an advance notice of proposed rulemaking about the use of metadata standards to support the exchange of electronic health information. Metadata -- which refers to elements that describe data -- are considered a necessary step in the development of complex health information exchange networks.
The push for metadata standards stems from a December 2010 report by the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. The report recommended the development and use of a universal exchange language to promote health data exchange and increase the privacy and security of information.
The language would separate data into units that have a "metadata tag" with directions for how to use the data.
ONC is sponsoring two pilot programs to test recommendations on metadata standards:
- The Data Segmentation for Privacy Initiative, which uses metadata tagging to help health care providers exchange portions of EHRs while keeping certain sensitive information separate; and
- The Query Health Initiative, which is establishing standards for requesting population health data from widely distributed sources (iHealthBeat, 10/14/2011).
Details of the Recent Demonstration
VA and HHS' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration demonstrated the use of metadata tagging with a system they developed as part of ONC's Data Segmentation for Privacy Initiative (Modern Healthcare, 9/17).
The demonstration showed how sensitive patient data can be tagged so that when a clinician receives the information, he or she would know to seek patient consent before disclosing the data to another health care provider (Mosquera, Government Health IT, 9/18).
As part of the demonstration, SAMHSA securely exchanged a mock patient's substance misuse treatment records, tagged with metadata, to VA's electronic health record system. The metadata indicated that the substance misuse treatment data were protected by federal confidentiality laws and could be used for only authorized purposes (HHS release, 9/17).
Joy Pritts, chief privacy officer at ONC, said, "This project helps demonstrate that with proper standards in place, existing privacy laws and policies can be implemented appropriately in an electronic environment" (Government Health IT, 9/18).