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HHS updates interoperability standards around gender identity, sexuality

HHS’ Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology on Friday unveiled new standards to allow the electronic exchange of patient data surrounding social determinants of health, sexual orientation and gender identity data.

OCR’s second version of the United States Core Data for Interoperability will allow providers to begin planning to collect and use social determinants and gender identity data in clinical settings.

“This is a totally great and maybe somewhat overdue update to USCDI to include these new markers of gender and race and things that will help make sure that the data being exchanged around patients is complete, and includes critical information that is needed for better public health,” said Lisa Bari, interim CEO of the Strategic Health Information Exchange Collaborative.

Using public feedback and health IT submissions, ONC created three new standardized data classes and 22 new data elements, with many meant to help marginalized and underrepresented individuals receive proper care.

While the update doesn’t require health professionals to record or share social determinants, sexual orientation or gender identity data, the CDC said that without this information, “LGBT patients and their specific healthcare needs cannot be identified, the health disparities they experience cannot be addressed, and important healthcare services may not be delivered.”

The data will help providers identify patients’ nonmedical needs like housing and transportation, and provide accurate, compassionate and safe care, Dr. Rachel Levine, HHS assistant secretary for health, said in a statement.

Social determinants factors that may impact someone’s ability to manage their health are also important for health professionals to know in order to deliver quality care, according to HHS.

ONC is looking for ways it can positively impact the work happening across the country to reduce health disparities and improve social determinants of health by making datasets more interoperable. Bari said.

Health IT developers will be able to update their certified health IT to support newer versions of the USCDI and provide updates to providers using ONC’s Standards Version Advancement Process, which will take place during fall 2021. Standards development organizations will work to update implementation guides and other technical requirements in alignment with USCDI version 2’s new data elements.

Having gender, sexuality and ethnicity data can help providers understand gaps in care and how to better direct resources. That’s expecially important in the pandemic and with COVID-19 testing and vaccinations, Bari said.

“This is just a critical building block for nationwide interoperability and nationwide data sharing to help reduce disparities,” Bari said.


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