An Introduction to Health Information Exchanges, and the Question of their Adoption

Some of the most concise, yet useful, information about health information exchanges must come from Medicity. In a “primer” page (that might be written for the HIE novice) there’s quite a nice bit of information about the importance of the technology.

Obviously, Medicity is biased, as HIE is what it does, but I admit that after reading some of the points Medicity makes about the importance of HIEs, I’m sold (though I already was).

Let’s dig in.

As we know, health information exchanges help connect healthcare providers with information they likely would not have through paper records, and in many cases, not even with electronic health records as the EHRs are often fragmented or don’t depict the entire health scenario of a patient.

As noted by Medicity, HIEs help create efficiencies in the care setting in many ways, primarily by helping make information available across many platforms and even across many care locations.

Additionally, and I’m paraphrasing here: HIEs help reduce duplicate testing of patients; help create a more complete picture of a patients’ care and prior treatment protocols; and they help eliminate costs and fees associated with redundancies.

The best case I can make for an HIE (probably for an EHR, as well) is a story from a former colleague. Her mother was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. At best, she was given months to live. However, after multiple specialist visits, redundant tests, labs and scans delivered the same information as the previous test, the woman died just a few weeks after initial diagnosis.

Moral of the story is this: according to my colleague, for every specialist she and her late mother visited, each one requested the same tests as the previous doc because the doc didn’t have an accurate, or complete, record. To make matters worse, the records were paper. My former colleague said the task of trying to assemble a complete care record was beyond arduous, not to mention difficult to construct given the red tape each practice had in place as the gate keeper of the records it kept.

If only the information had been in a single repository, perhaps her mother wouldn’t have wasted so much time on taking the same tests and she could have received the care she needed, my colleague said. I agree.

So does Medicity, which operates on the belief that HIEs change all of that. Simply and clearly put, HIEs “break down silos and make information available” to providers at virtually any location that’s connected to the HIE when the information is needed and required.

HIEs, like EHRs I suppose, can change and possibly save lives. Interestingly enough, at least to me, is that HIE’s lag in favor or in the very least have a history of not being able to generate the support they need to thrive (perhaps survive?).

As the government continues to place more importance on the availability of health information through exchanges and electronic records, the market will find a way to monetize HIEs (probably the biggest hurdle vendors face when considering whether to develop technologies to support them).

There are now, though, several vendors with their own HIE-like devices that can function within their EHRs the same way their patient portals work. They are able to trasmit data to other users of their company’s specific technology.

As these vendors continue to develop their own HIEs, and try to sell them, it will be interesting to see which technology – private or public – will be adopted by the healthcare community.