Episode Topic: TEFCA Chronicles - KONZA's Journey to Becoming a QHIN


Point-of-Care Partners (POCP) Dish on Health IT hosts, Pooja Babbrah and Jocelyn Keegan welcome special guest Laura McCrary, President and CEO (Chief Executive Officer) of KONZA National Network 

KONZA was recently designated as one of the first five Qualified Health Information Networks, or QHINS (Qualified Health Information Networks), to participate in the Trusted Exchange Framework and Common Agreement (TEFCA). Laura McCrary speaks with hosts about:  

  • Why KONZA pursued QHIN status 
  • Insight into the QHIN process 
  • How KONZA's status as a Health Information network since 2010 forms their approach as a QHIN 
  • KONZA's initial Membership mix, and  
  • What's new or surprising in the TEFCA Common Agreement version two 

Before digging into the meat of the episode, Jocelyn Keegan introduced herself briefly  
as the payer practice lead at POCP, program manager of HL7 Da Vinci Project and devotee to positive change building and getting stuff done in healthcare IT. She added that her focus at POCP is on interoperability, prior authorization and the convergence of where technology, strategy, product development and standards come together. 

Jocelyn ended her introduction by saying that she has had the honor of seeing Laura McCrary present on several occasions and that her pragmatic approach is refreshing and that she is looking forward to hearing how KONZA will be building on their already vibrant HIE (Health Information Exchange) footprint as a QHIN.  

Next Laura introduced herself sharing that she has been working on interoperability strategy in Kansas and then expanding to nationwide over the last 4 decades.  

She started her career as a special education history teacher. Early in her career she realized that while these children were in her care, she should have some basic information about medications or conditions so she could be informed and able to ensure everyone was well cared for.  

Of course, nobody shared medical records with teachers and parents didn’t have access to their kid’s patient records either. Making sure special education teachers or at the very least the school nurse could access necessary clinical information at the point of care became a passion of hers which led to an early success in her career which was working with the University of Kansas Medical Center setting up one of the first telemedicine programs in the public-school systems. Because of this work, since the early 2000’s, elementary kids in Kansas City, KS inner-city public-school systems have had access to basic health and telemedicine services.  

The telemedicine project helped Laura realize that technology really could bridge access gaps if we built and employed a robust technology infrastructure. 

When asked about KONZA’s mission and reasons for becoming a QHIN, Laura shared that the name “KONZA” is named after a Kansas prairie that is one of the most beautiful prairies in the nation.  

The way KONZA originated in Kansas around 2010 is a bit different than how other HIEs started. Most states at that time received federal funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to establish a health information exchanges. 

Kansas was different in that instead of standing up a state sponsored exchange, they actually encouraged a private public partnership and basically opened the floor for any organization who wanted to do business as a health information exchange in Kansas could so as long as they meet a set of very rigorous accreditation requirements, which included some pretty innovative ideas for that time. 

For example, one of the things that was required was that the health information exchange needed to share all information with patients. As early as 2012, Kansas HIEs were required to have a personal health record for patients where they could access any data that was in the health information exchange. QHINS must also do this by offering “individual access services” and KONZA has already been doing this for over a decade.  

In addition to sharing data with patients, Kansas also required data sharing of HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability) approved treatment, payment, and healthcare operations data with payers as it relates to their members. 

Laura continued by sharing that today, there are 4 exchanges that do business in Kansas, and they all work together as well as connect to other exchanges. KONZA also expanded to be able to serve patients across state lines as Kansas residents cross over into Missouri quite often to consume healthcare.  

Because of this history and background Laura shared that becoming a QHIN was a natural progression and a way to support their mission to make sure all participants have access to their own or their patient’s data.   

Pooja asked Laura about the process of becoming a QHIN. Pooja acknowledged the stringent requirements for QHINs and mentioned challenges discussed at the ONC Annual meeting in December. 

Laura shared KONZA's experience, saying they initially thought it would be like Kansas certification requirements. However, the application process involved demonstrating sustainability, financial viability, high trust certification for security, and proper information sharing using IHE protocols. KONZA became a candidate QHIN in February of the previous year, requiring the development of a project plan addressing technology conformance testing and demonstrating business viability. 

Laura emphasized the challenge of meeting high-level requirements, including safety, security, project management, and board governance. Notably, QHINs must have 51% of their Board of Directors as members, ensuring those participating in the network make decisions about the business model. KONZA reached 49% and welcomed a new member from a public health organization in January. The ongoing process involves meeting the remaining requirements to become a fully certified QHIN. 

Laura said the process of becoming a QHIN is a continuous work in progress. While they successfully crossed the finish line and are in production, she emphasized the need for ongoing changes to advance interoperability and data sharing. Laura highlighted the importance of QHINs working together as colleagues and federal leadership setting expectations for the national network. After four decades of working on the project, she expressed great satisfaction with the current state of progress. 

Pooja inquired about the impact of the diverse functional areas of the first group of QHIN designees on their operations. She expressed curiosity on behalf of Point of Care Partners, highlighting KONZA's background as a health information exchange in Kansas and seeking insights into how this background influenced KONZA's role as a QHIN. 

Laura responded by emphasizing the significance of diversity among QHINs as a valuable asset. She expressed excitement about the potential for innovative solutions to emerge from the diverse backgrounds of QHINs, enabling a departure from a one-size-fits-all approach. Laura expected the development of exciting and innovative solutions unique to each QHIN's diverse background. 

Pooja then invited Jocelyn to share her thoughts. Jocelyn expressed appreciation for Laura's insights, noting that knowing more about Laura's background made sense. She highlighted the importance of Laura's background in approaching long-term transformation. Jocelyn commended the incremental progress and permanent change advocated in the industry, aligning with Laura's pragmatic approach. 

Jocelyn acknowledged the mix of QHINs as fascinating and emphasized the importance of meeting people where they are. She recognized the relay race nature of the journey, with December marking the start of a new phase. Jocelyn predicted the challenge of creating compelling business cases and exploring the evolving business model for QHINs. She expressed interest in seeing the progress reports as end users transition from the HIE world to the TEFCA world. 

Laura emphasized the importance of KONZA serving as the QHIN for Health Information Exchanges (HIEs) and growing out of the HIE space. She expressed the belief that onboarding HIEs to their QHIN is crucial for expanding access to a broader set of data, benefiting patient care. Laura highlighted the critical role HIEs play in meeting the healthcare needs of communities, states, and regions. 

To ease this onboarding process, KONZA actively reached out to HIEs. Laura shared her personal commitment by mentioning that she had personally spoken with every HIE in the last six months. Additionally, KONZA planned to initiate HIE office hours to engage with HIEs and discuss the onboarding process to the QHIN. Laura conveyed a strong sense of responsibility, stating that if HIEs were not successfully onboarded to QHINs, she would personally feel like they had failed. She recognized the significant value and commitment HIEs have provided to their communities and stressed the importance of building upon their established connections and capabilities. 

Jocelyn initiated a discussion on expanding endpoints and the role of payers in TEFCA. She acknowledged Laura's insight into the base requirement in Kansas that involved having payers at the table, filling gaps in understanding about payer participation in national programs. Jocelyn expressed interest in understanding the implications of active payer participation, especially with recent rules requiring payers to provide data to providers. 

Laura provided a comprehensive response, highlighting the common inclusion of payers in HIE networks and the evolving landscape outlined in TEFCA requirements. She emphasized that recent rules, including prior authorization, point towards increased payer participation in the QHIN model. Laura praised ONC's efforts and leadership, acknowledging the challenge of absorbing the vast amount of information released. 

Laura discussed the significance of two specific SOPs (Standard Operating Procedure) dropped on Friday related to delegation of authority and healthcare operations. She encouraged stakeholders to focus on these documents, emphasizing the critical role they play in bringing clinical and claims data together. Laura outlined the historical challenge of integrating clinical and claims data, noting that TEFCA offers an opportunity to bridge this gap. 

Notably, Laura highlighted the requirement for payers participating in the QHIN model to provide adjudicated claims. She acknowledged that while this transformation may take time, conversations with payers indicated openness to sharing crucial data that providers might not have. Laura expressed excitement about the groundwork laid in the SOPs, anticipating an amazing transformation in healthcare. She encouraged innovative companies to explore the delegation of authority, foreseeing its profound impact on healthcare transformation. 

Pooja highlighted the collaboration between CMS and ONC in recent rule drops and mentioned the inclusion of FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resource) in the latest regulations. Jocelyn asked for comments on this, pointing out varying levels of maturity in QHINs' FHIR programs. She emphasized the shift towards API (Application Programming Interface) and codified data over documents, aiming for automation and reducing human involvement. Jocelyn expressed interest in Laura's perspective, considering the existing collaborations and partnerships. 

Laura explained the importance of EHRs (Electronic Health Records) being FHIR-enabled for effective data sharing with QHINs. She clarified that while QHINs can be FHIR-enabled, the critical factor is whether EHR vendors support FHIR. Laura highlighted the necessity for EHR systems to have FHIR endpoints and publish them in the RCE (Recognized Coordinating Entity) directory for effective data retrieval. She stressed that both FHIR endpoints and resources are crucial for successful data exchange. 

Regarding facilitated FHIR, Laura expressed excitement about its implementation by the end of Q1. She mentioned the role of facilitated FHIR in responding to payers and highlighted the importance of the healthcare operations SOP. Laura also discussed the bulk FHIR initiative by NCQA, expressing enthusiasm for participation. She emphasized the significance of FHIR in sharing minimum necessary data, addressing the challenges posed by lengthy patient care documents. Laura underscored FHIR's role in providing relevant information to physicians and caregivers based on their specific needs. 

Pooja, the host, moves to the closing segment, asking cohost Jocelyn and guest Laura for final messages or calls to action. Jocelyn commends Laura on FHIR progress and highlights the importance of maturity and bulk FHIR for automation. She mentions an upcoming Da Vinci Community Roundtable discussion on the clinical data exchange FHIR guide and encourages engagement with Laura for early participation in payer use cases. 

Laura emphasized the profound opportunities with QHINs, including potential in public health and COVID response. Laura invites those interested in discussing the future of healthcare data and transforming patient care to reach out via LinkedIn, email or to call her.  

Pooja expressed gratitude to guest, Laura McCrary for joining The Dish on Health IT and to listeners for tuning in.  

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"The Dish on Health IT"

Engaging discussion around Health IT with perspectives from across the healthcare landscape. This informative and entertaining rotating panel of senior health IT consultants and their guests will keep you in the know about the latest innovations, policies and industry shifts impacting healthcare and point out the opportunities that lie within.

The Dish on Health IT

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