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MHDC Addresses Interoperability Potential and Risks

April 16, 2024 Denny Brennan


In recent efforts to modernize healthcare through technology, the Massachusetts Health Data Consortium (MHDC) has embarked on two pivotal projects that showcase the vast potential and inherent risks of digital health initiatives. These projects highlight the healthcare industry's dual objectives: to harness technology to make healthcare delivery more efficient and effective and to navigate the cybersecurity challenges that accompany such digital advancements.

A cornerstone of MHDC's initiatives is the introduction of NEHEN 3.0, an advanced health information exchange platform aimed at revolutionizing the way healthcare providers and health plans communicate and share data. Designed to significantly alleviate the administrative burdens that currently hamper the healthcare system, NEHEN 3.0 is built around five foundational pillars:

  1. Infrastructure Services: These critical services ensure the secure and efficient exchange of data across the platform. They include robust security measures, comprehensive identity and access management, and consent management (among other important features), providing a solid foundation for trustworthy data exchange.
  2. Connectivity: By offering a unified point of access for all network participants, NEHEN 3.0 streamlines transactions, reducing the transactional complexity and associated costs. This feature fosters a more interconnected and efficient healthcare ecosystem.
  3. Full Standards Support: NEHEN 3.0 supports a broad spectrum of data standards, ensuring that the platform can handle a variety of use cases. This capability ensures seamless interoperability across different healthcare systems, facilitating smooth data exchange.
  4. Community Governance: NEHEN uses collaborative decision-making among platform users with the help of MHDC’s Data Governance Collaborative (DGC). This allows us to collectively prioritize which implementation use cases to focus on, navigate regulatory changes, and guide the development of the platform. This collaborative approach ensures that NEHEN 3.0 evolves in a way that meets the community's needs.
  5. Automation Services: Perhaps the most transformative aspect of NEHEN 3.0, this feature automates processes like prior authorization and quality measures exchange which traditionally require significant administrative effort. By streamlining these processes, NEHEN 3.0 promises to drastically reduce the workload on healthcare providers and payers.

The expected benefits of deploying NEHEN 3.0 are significant. Notably, the platform will reduce unnecessary prior authorizations by up to 80%, a change that could dramatically streamline healthcare operations and allow providers to focus more on patient care rather than administrative tasks.

However, the drive towards digital transformation in healthcare is not without its challenges, particularly in the realm of cybersecurity. The ransomware attack on Change Healthcare serves as a stark reminder of the vulnerabilities that digital healthcare systems face. This incident underscored the critical need for robust cybersecurity measures to protect sensitive health information against sophisticated cyber threats.

In response to this, the Mass Collaborative engaged MHDC to launch the Change Healthcare Assistance Program (CHAP) to assist Massachusetts providers impacted by the attack resume operations. CHAP provides essential resources, immediate connectivity to payers, and ongoing redundancy to limit the impact of any future cybersecurity incidents. Refer to the NEHEN update in this newsletter for more specifics of how CHAP works or to learn how to participate.

Through the development of NEHEN 3.0 and the response to the Change Healthcare ransomware attack, MHDC illustrates the delicate balance between innovation and security in the digital healthcare landscape. These initiatives highlight our commitment to using technology to enhance the quality and efficiency of care while maintaining robust cybersecurity measures. The insights gained from these projects will be crucial in guiding future technological advancements and strategies in healthcare.

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