Expanding HIEs Taking Role As Backbone For Reform Efforts

Posted on December 3, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

It looks like we may be seeing a tipping point for HIEs, which for many years have seen only isolated successes. According to a new report from the eHealth Initiative, the number of HIEs has grown meaningfully between last year and this year, and this year should see many new HIE organizations form.  Perhaps more importantly, it looks like HIEs are taking their place as the backbone for up and coming reform efforts.

When eHI reached out to survey HIEs, it found 322 organizations to survey, up from 255 last year.  Of that group, 88 HIE initiatives are at the highest stages of development on eHIs HIE development scale, an increase of 13 from last year.  As researchers see it, we’ll see even more growth and maturing technologies in 2013.

Over the last several years, the HIEs which have stayed on their feet and matured have almost all been propped up by federal dollars. Twenty-seven of the advanced HIEs surveyed said that the single most substantial source of funding they had was from the federal government; also, 22 of these HIEs were classified as state designated entities.

Unlike the past, however, it seems that HIEs believe they can survive without grant money from the government.  Of 39 state-designated entities responding to the study, 37 said they believe it is ‘very likely’ or ‘likely’ that they will remain operational after the HITECH dollars stop flowing.  An additional 31 of the SDEs said t hat it is ‘very likely’ or ‘likely’ that they will be financially sustainable three years from now even without additional federal dollars.

Now, here’s where it gets really interesting (to me at least). As part of the study, the eHealth Initiative asked some questions about how HIEs were playing into preparations for the full rolllout of health reform.

What they found out is that HIEs are increasingly playing a major role in health reform-related efforts such as ACOs and/or Patient-Centered Medical Homes.  More than half (109) of the HIE respondents said that they are supporting ACOs or PCMHs.

The HIEs aren’t just dumb pipes either;  not only are they offering technical infrastructure, they’re providing data analytics services around cost efficiencies and quality improvement.

Looks like 2013 should be a pivotal year for HIEs. I for one am excited to see what HIE organizations will be able to accomplish over the next 12 months prior to full rollout of health reform.  Go team HIE!