The fundamental question for HIEs is two-fold: 1) what is their purpose and 2) who benefits and will pay for them- the latter is a question of revenue model not grant funding which always runs out sooner or later. Relevant facts include:
1. HIEs are not a new concept. I was around when Community Health Information Networks; or CHINs (The ‘C’ in CHIN stands for communism where we all do the right thing because it’s for the good of the order) came and went. Then RHIOs came and went. Now HIEs. What these have in common is grant funding but generally no business model.
2. The idea of providers paying for the opportunity to share their patient (‘read “Client”) information with competitors is novel I must admit. But in the old days when I was seeing patients, when you sold your practice you largely sold your charts. It was the charts as much as anything else that kept patients coming to the new doctor after the sale- ‘it still works this way for many dentists. Now docs are supposed to pay for the privilege of having their charts opened to competitors? Now I know that the hospital execs all salute this flag when the discussion of HIEs occurs at the rubber chicken dinners. But when I was on the exec committee at a community based hospital we spent time trying to compete with, not empower, competing hospitals. You may say that is not right- but that’s a fact.
3. HIEs I’ve seen that have any hope serve a specific business purpose and often exist within an economic entity. Kaiser has a large HIE- they just don’t call it that.
4. Data exchange between competitors has worked in many venues- the obvious example is ATMs where competing banks collaborate. BUT this occurs because customers demand it. Unless or until patients/consumers begin to select healthcare providers who participate in some level (i.e. CCD-level sharing at least) of basic patient information exchange (i.e. refusing to go to providers who hand them a clipboard), the HIE concept is massively challenged. ‘Though it’s always fun right up until the grant funding runs out.