Tampa Hospitals, Physicians In Tug Of War Over RHIO

Posted on April 4, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

Sometimes, RHIOs fail to gel or fall apart because of technical issues. But in one Florida community, it seems like pure politics may doom efforts by area doctors and hospitals to connect.

According to the Tampa Tribune, there’s a tug-of-war going on between the Hillsborough Medical Association and a consortium of local hospitals over how providers in the Tampa Bay area will share data.  Hospitals want doctors to follow their lead, not too surprising given how much they’ve probably invested in big-ticket systems like Epic.  The medical association, meanwhile, is arguing that its members are a better choice to coordinate things, since they have more frequent contact with patients and know them better.

The crux of the matter seems to be this.  HITECH may have laid out a lot of money to encourage EMR adoption, but the feds haven’t spelled out who should control the HIEs binding them together.  As a result, nobody seems to agree on how to build and share a medical information exchange.

So now it’s come down to a matter of statistics, financial and organizational.  A group of seven hospitals would like to lead a RHIO, driven by their knowledge of integration and data exchange they’ve spent tens of millions of dollars to acquire. The hospitals are currently shopping for a medical data exchange technology vendor and estimate it could take 18+ months before data exchange between hospitals gets rolling.

Meanwhile, the medical association is more interested in a north Florida group, Big Bend RHIO, which is operated in part by the Florida Medical Association. Big Bend RHIO has won the support of some of the region’s largest medical practices, the Tribune reports, and represents more than 1000 doctors.

Yet another option is for local hospitals to sign on to a statewide HIE managed by Harris Corp., which got a $19 million grant to create the exchange two years ago. Some hospitals and doctors are asking whether it might not be better to jump on board with the Harris project (something that sounds pretty sensible to your editor).

My guess: it will be preeeetty darned close to 2015 before these folks figure out how to work together.  It’s a pity there’s no simple technology for ego information exchange.