Why Do You Need the SMTP Edge Protocol Connector?

We frequently work with organizations in the health sector on certifications for integrating into their applications, the new 2015 ONC (Office of the National Coordinator) requirements for implementing the SMTP Edge Protocol connector.  In a recent exchange with a customer I was asked a great question about these requirements:

“Can you provide an easy to understand explanation that can be given to clients, as to the purpose of the new Edge Protocol features and how it benefits clients?”

It’s fair to say that the Edge Protocol requirement we collaborated on with this customer has an impact on certification (i.e.: you can’t get certified without it!) but a neutral effect with respect to functionality and usability.  The Edge Protocol offers an alternative method to connect to a HISP versus an API, which is the method frequently used to connect to a vendor.  It’s a technical option the ONC wants included in certification as a way to enforce its anti-data-blocking policy.  The Edge Protocol is a standard connector which can – in theory – enable a plug ‘n play connection to any (h)(2) certified HISP.  From the end-user perspective, the connector could – in theory – make it easy to connect to one or perhaps multiple alternative HISPs.  The same holds true for the EHR.

So, the connector enables more choice and therefore lowers the probability that data can be “held hostage” – a positive thing for the vendor’s customer. In practice, the challenges are similar to connecting your AT&T-issued iPhone – for example – to, say, Verizon, or to multiple providers.

End-users benefit because the connector ensures ongoing compliance with criteria used by CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid) to issue incentive payments under MACRA-MIPs (Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act – Merit-based Incentive Payments) and alternative payment models (APMs).  The Edge Protocol connector also contributes to compliance with open data exchange directives under the 21st Century Cures Act.   While the CMS has not mandated that any specific service or workflow must be delivered by way of the SMTP Edge connector, vendors can accommodate any such requirement if/when needed.  In short, a vendor’s end-users can rest assured that you/they are compliant with the current requirement to have this alternative connection method enabled and with future requirements – should there be any – to employ it for “TBD.”

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