Health Information Exchange Featured Article

July 06, 2012

Future for Health Information Exchanges Looks Bright

IT. It’s been around since the advent of computers. But it’s been growing in stature and importance in companies worldwide ever since, and Kate Spies at healthcareitnews writes that “in the realm of public health, IT is proving to be the vital ingredient behind the revolution of patient care.”

A recent interview with executives from two Beacon communities yielded some interesting insights into the future of health information exchanges (HIEs), one of the linchpins of healthcare reform, according to Spies.

The Beacon Community Program, an initiative launched by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), tries to set up ways for information to flow seamlessly between providers and patients in communities around the country.

Chris Chute, MD, a principal investigator for the Southeastern Minnesota (SE MN) Beacon Community, feels the major challenge is trust. “How do we understand to whom we're sending, and to whom we're requesting (information)?” he asked in the interview.

“Without a very well-formed governance model and trust network, I could conceivably set myself up as a spam healthcare organization and solicit health information exchange records,” he told Spies. “And who's to know that I am who I say I am? And who's to know that these requests are legitimate and validated? That's when we get into notions of a trust network and a governance model.”

Standards and interoperability are another big factor, according to the experts, as is replicating the HIE model around the country. Said Keystone Beacon Community HIE Director Jim Younkin, “What we have done through the Beacon program is we have developed a community–based model. . . We believe through the right kind of governance, and by having a care coordination team that is working on behalf of all of those community members, that this model is entirely possible to be replicated nationwide, regardless of what the organization is that's leading it.”

 But it’s certainly not going to be smooth sailing. Several GOP governors have already said they will not set up HIEs in their states. Under the law, the federal government will do it for them – wording in the Affordable Care Act says it will establish an HIE in states that decline to have one in operation by 2014.

Porter Research has come down on the side of the value of HIEs, citing them as one of the biggest areas of growth in healthcare. “Without a doubt, HIEs -- both public and private -- will continue to grow, potentially in size and number,” Whitney L.J. Howell writes, noting that the number of HIEs nearly doubled to 230 between 2010 and 2011.  

Edited by Rich Steeves