Health Information Exchange Featured Article

August 14, 2012

Massachusetts Health IT Czar Says HIEs Provide Huge Benefit -- Financial Sustainability

Some love them. Others hate them. But health information exchanges are here to stay. And in Massachusetts, the state’s chief health IT officer believes health information exchanges (HIEs) solve a key dilemma — financial sustainability — with funding from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

“It’s a major significance from a sustainability perspective,” said Manu Tandon, Massachusetts’ state HIT coordinator, of the $16.9 million grant for Phase 1 of Massachusetts HIE, in an interview with Anthony Brino at Government Health IT. “One of the challenges with HIEs is funding sustainability.”

All of the Commonwealth’s hospitals and 80 percent of its providers serve Medicaid patients, and HIEs may be a key part of reigning in Medicaid spending, Tandon told Brino.

“The feds think that Medicaid in general is to benefit from the use of an HIE and they want Medicaid to be at the center of cost containment nationally,” Tandon said in his interview with Brino.

Tandon noted that the HIE could be “the IT backbone for the smarter and more efficient healthcare system envisioned by Massachusetts’ new cost containment law.”

Phase 1 of the HIE will focus on its technical infrastructure and is set to run by the end of the year, Brino reported. Later phases will cover “building capabilities for healthcare quality analysis and eventually search functions for providers to track patients’ history,” he revealed, for a whopping $50 million, according to Tandon.

If CMS funds most of it, and Tandon thinks it will, Massachusetts could be ahead of the state HIE curve nationally.

So far, Tandon said, Massachusetts’ four largest providers offer patients use of EHRs and about 15 percent of them are using it.

Not all states are as excited about HIEs as the Bay State. The board responsible for overseeing the digital exchange of Kansans' health records recently had to face whether to dissolve itself and turn its regulatory authority over to a state agency to save money, according to a story at Kaiser Health News.

States that decide not to set up HIEs, however, are not out of the woods. The government will step in and do it for them, if it’s not done within 18 months of the June Supreme Court ruling upholding the health reform act. 

Edited by Rachel Ramsey