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Federal Health Interoperability Standards Now Include Gender Identity

The new guidance is the latest move agencies are making in targeting improved health equity for underrepresented communities.

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The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology’s new United States Core Data for Interoperability version 2 (USCDI v2) tackles health disparities and better explains social determinants of health.

“We heard that this new version of the USCDI should reflect America’s diversity and include data elements like sexual orientation, gender identity and social determinants of health while helping to address disparities in health outcomes for minoritized, marginalized and underrepresented individuals and communities,” said Dr. Micky Tripathi, national coordinator for health information technology, in the announcement.

Building upon stakeholder feedback, ONC’s new data standards will provide a standardized set of health data classes and constituent data elements for interoperable health information exchange. This update will enable decision-makers and stakeholders to better visualize social determinants of health, sexual orientation, gender identity and other critical health data elements, as it relates to health care.

Before the new iteration of the standards, health care facilities did not have a standardized way to collect this type of data, making it difficult for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender patients to recieve a tailored care treatment. Now health care providers have guidance on how to collect, analyze and exchange social determinants of health, sexual orientation and gender identity data to improve patient care in a clinical setting.

“For accurate, compassionate and safe care, it is important for a patient’s sexual orientation and gender identity to be part of their care coordination, and this new version helps prioritize next steps for the health care community as well as help identify patients’ specific nonmedical needs — like housing, transportation and poverty — that affect health to coordinate care and assistance to improve health outcomes,” Levine added.

The move is the latest in a string of efforts the federal government has taken after COVID-19 has highlighted many of the inequities and disparities within the U.S. health care system. To close these gaps and prepare for the next health crisis, federal leaders are investigating how they can make data more interoperable to better understand and meet public health demands.

As government focuses on improving care for all populations, other federal agencies and departments, like the Department of Veterans Affairs, are launching similar initiatives to increase access to care and tailor treatments for minority populations.

In late June, VA announced that it will begin providing gender confirmation surgery to transgender veterans to improve benefits and quality of health care for all veterans irrespective of gender, racial and sexual identity.

“LGBTQ+ veterans experience mental illness and suicidal thoughts at far higher rates than those outside their community. But they are significantly less likely to seek routine care, largely because they fear discrimination,” said VA Secretary Denis McDonough. “At VA, we’re doing everything in our power to show veterans of all sexual orientations and gender identities that they can talk openly, honestly and comfortably with their health care providers about any issues they may be experiencing.”

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