The HIE delay

Priorities in health IT seem to be changing for hospitals and providers almost every day. This shift in goals and activities is hardly shocking -- a CIO or IT professional in the healthcare field has had to become quite skilled at juggling in the past couple of years. And it appears that those skills are going to prove to be even more necessary in the years ahead.

According to a summary of the 22nd annual Modern Healthcare/ Modern Physician Survey of Executive Opinions on Key Information Technology Issues, the priorities for IT leaders and executives in healthcare will continue to shift for a whole variety of reasons: ICD-10 pending regulations, meaningful use Stage 2 proposed rule and inevitable subsequent modifications, etc. But if we look at the trend to join an HIE or regional health information organization specifically, there are some key considerations that this report brings to light.

The survey asked respondents to indicate their top three IT priorities for this year with “Participation in local, regional, or state health information exchange organization” marked as a priority for 12 percent of the responses. Unsurprisingly, meaningful use and ICD-10 readiness swept the top two priorities at 50 percent and 49 percent, respectively.

Conversely, while it may not be the top priority right away, survey respondents indicated that participating in an HIE would be a top priority in the next 24 months. According to the report, 22 percent of executives listed HIE participation in this category. Further, 23 percent of respondents have “planned but not started” HIE participation and 21 percent have plans for “implementation [to] start within 12 months.”

Participation in a regional, state or local HIE can mean many things, and levels of participation will vary depending not only on the service offerings and technical capabilities of the HIE but also on the decisions made by the healthcare providers themselves. For meaningful use specifically, Stage 1 requires testing of key clinical information exchange, which is the most basic function of any HIE. While this can be done without an HIE for Stage 1, Stage 2 will almost undoubtedly include expectations for HIE involvement beyond just basic information exchange, and that trend will continue even more in Stage 3.

Rather than evaluating these items separately, there is an inherent value in participating in an HIE as early as possible. As meaningful use and other federal programs around HIT have been designed, HIE is intended to be a fundamental layer of support for all ongoing HIT initiatives including ACO formation and the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Program.

Nonetheless, with both Stages 2 and 3 seeming somewhat distant compared to other more immediate concerns and the lingering focus on Stage 1, HIE participation seems to be taking a back seat to other IT priorities rather than being recognized as a support for those other initiatives such as meaningful use.

And so, while the HIE delay is undoubtedly understandable when it comes to the IT juggling act, the challenge this week is to shift perspectives just slightly to see an HIE as a tool to help get you to meaningful use and far beyond. Without it, evolving HIT mandates may begin to seem increasingly more perplexing and difficult. With the support of a solid HIE, however, all of your future HIT needs might just fall right into place.

Take the opportunity to reach out to your local or state HIE resources to learn more about how they can fortify your ongoing HIT initiatives.

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