Social Security hopes to expand its data exchange

The move is considered a step in the growth of the nascent National Health Information Network.

By Pamela Lewis Dolan — Posted Nov. 27, 2009

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After what it called a successful year testing the National Health Information Network with select hospital systems and regional health information exchanges, the Social Security Administration said its next step will be to exchange data with the Dept. of Veterans Affairs and the Dept. of Justice.

Although no date has been set, the Social Security Administration says it hopes to bring the VA and Justice Dept. in as it continues its testing of what is considered to be a foundation for the National Health Information Network. The exchange would allow the SSA to more quickly process disability applications submitted by veterans.

The exchange would be an extension to earlier testing the SSA did with MedVirginia, a regional health information organization serving Virginia, and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

Jim Borland, special adviser for health information technology for the SSA, said in June that since the exchange with MedVirginia started in February, the organization reduced the average time it takes to process disability applications from 83 to 32 days. In some cases, applications were received and processed the same day.

The SSA set aside $24 million earlier this year to help expand the number of organizations with whom it's able to exchange electronic data. The money was made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The agency sends more than 15 million requests each year to physicians and hospitals for medical records of disability applicants. The SSA is expecting the number of applications for fiscal year 2010 to increase by 27% from 2008.

Not only does the real-time exchange of data save the SSA staff time and money, Borland said, but physician offices also can save as employees aren't needed to track down, scan and send paper files.

In August, SSA announced that it had entered into an agreement with Microsoft to test the use of its HealthVault personal health record in the disability claims process.

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