CIO-centric conversations about the health information exchange (HIE) concept tend to orbit the twin concerns of privacy and the sheer tonnage of data expected in a fully functioning HIE universe.
As with most data projects, the usefulness of an HIE undeniably will depend largely on the wealth of information available on each enrolled patient. Unlike most of the people talking about the HIE reality, Dr. Farzad Mostashari, the national health IT coordinator, is arguing in favor of collecting more and more information at the point of patient contact, rather than figuring out how to hold back the tide of information.
The purpose behind the HIE is simple and admirable: All the pertinent information about a patient's healthcare should be available to any provider seeing the patient, no matter where the provider is located, when the access is required, or which provider generated the original record. In some visions, patients would also be able to generate information themselves through devices ranging from blood pressure cuffs to blood glucose meters that would pass the data through a gatekeeper service and insert it into the record.
Understandably, many industry CIOs have expressed reservations about the potential flood of data, and healthcare professionals have expressed concern about the reliability of data entering the records.
Dr. Mostashari, though, is looking for demand to drive HIE adoption. An InformationWeek article by Neil Versel describes Mostashari hosting meetings in which he talks about a future in which HIEs are inextricably linked to healthcare reform. When the rise of HIEs is tied to issues like meaningful use and electronic health records, the scope of the change mandated by recent laws and regulations becomes clear.
The truth of the matter is that healthcare IT is beginning a process that will fundamentally alter both the scope of activity and the nature of the job to be done. Retention and retrieval have been the centerpieces of activity for the last century, but interoperability and communications will form the foundation of healthcare in the century to come.
For CIOs in the industry, staying on top of regulations and paying close attention to standards-based data interoperability efforts will be keys to staying on top of the breaking information wave. Have you decided which standards will get your support? Is your position one of leading HIE efforts, or do institutional politics make holding back and waiting for the dust to settle the winning position? There are no simple answers in the midst of a change this significant. Embracing the complexity and selling the results to the healthcare practitioners in the organization are really the only ways to make it through to the other side. What's your plan?