The Veterans Affairs Department has joined DirectTrust's Accredited Trust Anchor Bundle program, making it possible for its staff to exchange patient data with the alliance's national network of providers via secure messaging.
"This is a major step to increase care coordination with community (non-VA) providers who also provide care for our veterans," Dr. Margaret Donahue, director of the VA's Veterans Health Information Exchange Program, said in a statement.
DirectTrust is a not-for-profit healthcare trade group that brings together hospitals, health insurers, technology vendors, physician groups and other organizations that use Direct. Direct is a technical standard for encrypted and HIPAA-compliant messaging that some organizations use to exchange patient data.
In 2018, DirectTrust reported facilitating nearly 274 million Direct message exchanges. By year-end, 139,000 healthcare organizations were served by DirectTrust-accredited health information service providers, up 30% from 107,000 in 2017, according to the group.
Health Internet Service Providers are organizations that manage security and data transferring for providers using the Direct standard. That can include health systems, health information exchanges and IT vendors, among others.
The Accredited Trust Anchor Bundle program builds on the group's overall vision by certifying HISPs that adhere to established data-exchange standards, according to Scott Stuewe, CEO of DirectTrust. Accredited organizations can then easily share data with one another using Direct messaging, since each of the participants has already agreed to use the same standards.
Without this type of accreditation, organizations would have to negotiate how to share data with one another on an individual basis, to ensure each partner was using appropriate privacy, security and identification practices, Stuewe said.
"Whenever you have a set of rules that everybody complies with, it makes it easier to determine who you can play with," he added.
Under the new accreditation, VA staff will be able to exchange data with DirectTrust's network of 1.8 million organizations, including private-sector hospitals and clinics across the U.S.
"This will make it a lot easier for (the VA) to open up the lid on making the connection between VA facilities and community facilities nationwide without having to do additional individual orchestration efforts," Stuewe said.
The White House's proposed fiscal 2020 budget asks for $84.1 billion for the VA, which is $4.6 billion over last year's budget, as the department implements actions mandated by last year's VA Mission Act. The funding is estimated to pay for treatment of 7.1 million veterans in 2020, including some care by private providers. The boost also would aid the department's consolidation of all community health choices by June 6.