It’s been quite the year! Last year’s blog post on Connie was subject to five revisions between December and April, reflecting the challenges of gathering accurate information about Connecticut’s Health Information Exchange and its operation. Fortunately, there are some promising updates to share.
The start of 2023 was marked by confusion and frustration for both providers and me. Misunderstandings about Connecticut’s data privacy laws and applicability to Connie, misconceptions about the scope of mandate to connect with Connie, and conflicting information on the Office of Health Strategy (OHS) and Connie websites left many scratching their heads. Basic questions, like the applicability of the law to retired individuals or university professors, remained unanswered.
I fielded many phone calls and emails from concerned providers and had very little comforting information to provide.
Recognizing the need for collective efforts, I teamed up with two top-notch healthcare lawyers, Jody Erdfarb of Wiggin and Dana and Heather Berchem of Murtha Cullina. Together, we helped to convey the concerns of several healthcare provider associations representing thousands of providers to OHS, the agency that oversees Connie. We also attended regular meetings with Connie leadership.
Thanks to the collaborative efforts of provider associations, lobbyists, engaged providers and others, we made some progress. While challenges persist, there is now a clear path forward. OHS has confirmed that, for the time being, providers only need to complete the Commitment to Connect Form.
Current Obligation: the Commitment to Connect Form
In a meeting with stakeholders in August 2023, OHS clarified that no obligations to connect or share information with Connie will be enforced until policies and procedures or regulations are in place. This important development means, for now, providers are not required to sign any agreements, connect to Connie, or share data.
Certainly, providers are welcome to connect voluntarily to and share information with Connie. Many have found access to state-wide information beneficial. But providers with concerns about connection issues, sensitive data, and onerous contract provisions, among other concerns, can wait without fear of enforcement.
OHS Regulations and Policies and Procedures
The law that obligates providers to begin the process of connecting to and participating in Connie also directs OHS to promulgate regulations to implement the law. It further permits OHS to create policies and procedures that will govern until regulations can be finalized, which is a lengthy process in Connecticut. To create policies and procedures, OHS must hold a public hearing at least 30 days before implementing the policies and procedures and then must provide notice on its website once implemented.
Hopefully, these policies and procedures will address most of the outstanding issues including the data that must be shared, the protection of sensitive data, clarity on patient education, fees and contract issues. OHS anticipates that it will have draft policies and procedures in the second quarter of 2024. Further, OHS indicated that it plans to first update the FAQs on its website and use those FAQs as the basis for the policies and procedures.
We have offered some suggestions for revisions to the FAQs and we will be monitoring the OHS site for changes. Also, we will be sure to notify providers when the draft policies and procedures are available and will encourage participation in the public hearing.
Upon completing the Commitment to Connect Form, now called a registration form, providers can expect messages from Connie requesting legal documents, including a 60+ page Simple Data Sharing Organization Agreement (SDSOA). There are significant concerns, especially for smaller providers, about the provisions in the SDSOA.
While Connie may send frequent messages about the SDSOA, there is no obligation to sign the SDSOA at this time. The OHS policies and procedures may address contractual obligations and, regardless of the policies, we will continue efforts to negotiate the terms of the SDSOA directly with Connie.
Sit tight. When I see substantially revised OHS FAQs, I will let you know and will share my thoughts and insights. Further, once OHS notifies the public that draft policies and procedures are ready for review and subject to a public hearing, you will hear from me through this blog and the newsletter.
The next step for providers will be to share your feedback on the FAQs and draft policies and procedures. Be on the lookout for updates!
Here’s to a 2024 with far less frustration and confusion around Connie!
Wishing you a Happy New Year!