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Where is Health Information Exchange, Health IT Headed?

As the healthcare industry pushes toward the goal of nationwide health information exchange, how are we advancing?

By Sara Heath

- At the end of last year, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) announced its goal of achieving nationwide health information exchange (HIE) by the end of this year.

health information exchange HIE

At a Bipartisan Policy Center event on interoperability back in December, National Coordinator Karen DeSalvo explained the benefits a wholly connected HIE for both the public and private sectors of the healthcare IT industry.

"We share that and we also know that we're using slightly different terminology, but we do have this overall vision that we're going to achieve this connected community of health," she noted. “Our goal is to see that we can connect that highway, including the health information exchanges but also the private sector exchanges, in the entire country within a year."

In light of that goal, health information has made much progress to spreading across the nation. More and more healthcare organizations are connecting to statewide HIEs, and more information regarding how this technology may work is being collected, all of which is pushing the industry toward better connectedness.

Below, EHRIntelligence.com has compiled some of the most recent HIE breakthroughs pushing us toward nationwide health information connectivity:

Exchange between doctors and patients grows

Health information exchange between patients and their providers is growing, if only modestly, according to ONC data. Between 2013 and 2014, HIE between providers increased from 39 percent to 42 percent.

ONC data also shows that providers exchange many different kinds of health information, including lab results, medication lists, medication allergy lists, patient problem lists, and imaging reports.

Although most providers exchange within the practice or with affiliated providers, the number of exchanges between unaffiliated providers is indeed growing.

HIE infrastructure is increasing

Although the growing amount of exchange between providers is modest, more and more physicians are gaining the technological ability for HIE.

As of August 2015, ONC shows that nearly 75 percent of providers have at least some kind of basic EHR system that would enable some HIE. Nearly 97 percent have a certified EHR system, which would certainly enable ample HIE.

HIE research is limited

Although the ability and execution of HIE is growing somewhat, research into how to make information exchange more effective is somewhat limited. Research from the Agency for Healthcare Research Quality (AHRQ) shows that literature surrounding HIE is not broad enough in scope.

By reviewing a total of 136 HIE research studies, including 26 about HIE use outcomes and 58 about HIE use, AHRQ determined that much of the literature on the subject is inconclusive and provides little insight into how to actually make HIE functional in the healthcare industry.

“The full impact of HIE on clinical outcomes and potential harms is inadequately studied, although evidence provides some support for benefit in reducing use of some specific resources and achieving improvements in quality-of-care measures,” AHRQ reported.

HIEs are crossing state lines

Despite the limited amount of substantive HIE research, it is still making waves throughout the nation. At the start of the year, the Indiana Health Information Exchange (IHIE) set up a system that could exchange health information across stateliness with Ohio residents, a first-of-its kind feat.

The Health Collaborative, an extension of IHIE, has gone to lengths to include Reid Health, a provider located in Richmond, Indiana, that also serves a largely Ohio patient population. This should drive care outcomes by making patient information readily available to all providers involved, regardless of the patient’s home state.

This interstate HIE sets an excellent precedent for DeSalvo’s previously stated goal for nationwide health information exchange by the end of this year.

“No other region in this country can provide the depth of data exchange and the two-way flow of information that we have accomplished here,” explained CEO of The Health Collaborative Craig Brammer. “This collaboration provides a real world example of a bold vision for connecting healthcare not just in this region but across the nation.”

By applying some of the tactics of IHIE with Reid Health, DeSalvo and the ONC’s goal may become a reality.

Image Credits: Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT

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