HIE stands for Health Information Exchange. Sometimes the term HIE is used to describe the act of exchanging health information, sometimes HIE is used to describe the infrastructure which enables the exchange to occur and sometimes HIE is used to describe an organization that owns the infrastructure which enables the act of health information exchange. HIE (the act) is supposedly the holy grail of Health Information Technology (HIT) and the enabler of “an EHR for every American by 2014”, which in turn, will bring about better health care at lower costs and, by leveling the playing field, will reduce disparities in care.
The Government, through ONC, has awarded over $547 million to various States to create regional HIE (organizations). The fledgling new State HIEs (the organizations) are busy screening and purchasing HIEs (the platforms) and defining the rules of their local HIE (the act). There are several HIE (platform) vendors, notably Medicity and Axolotl (recently acquired by Ingenix), but even Microsoft and IBM are trying to make inroads into this fairly new market. In a parallel process, ONC is busy defining national standards and regulations for HIE (the act).
There are two basic models for any information exchange and HIE (the act) is no different.
The Centralized Model – All information creators/editors/contributors push their content to a centralized repository, preferably in real time, and all users/readers pull the information on demand from said centralized repository. This is the infamous “database in the sky” which houses every American’s medical records. Conceptually, this is the simplest model to understand. The Government will buy enough hardware to set up clusters upon clusters of databases, define the exact data elements and documents to be stored, assign a national identifier to all of us (physicians too) and finally publish specifications for pushing and pulling data securely. Every EHR vendor and medical information supplier (such as labs and pharmacies) will build the necessary web services and integrate them in their technology and we will all live happily ever after. However, other than the obvious monumental technology challenges involved in maintaining such infrastructure, Americans tend to experience significant discomfort with the concept of Uncle Sam having unfettered access to so much personal information and the obvious privacy issues it raises.
We’ve done some heavy dipping into the world of policy recently. In mid-September, I spent a day in Washington, D.C., with friend and advisor Tom Scully meeting researchers, senators, and a congressman. We heard from “ONCHIT” that “CCHIT”—which, as you know is an “ATCB”—granted us Stage 1 MU! This is great news for me, mostly because some competitors didn’t get it! (How’s that for starting a policy blog with some serious ABCs?!)
I met with some amazingly smart and engaged reporters who now (I think, get called “researchers,” since their newspapers can no longer afford them) work for the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation or NPR. They’re the real deal. They needed much less initial grounding in the problems we try to solve than most of the journalists we meet. They had taken on board the assumption that the move toward ACOs means less waste (which it could for some) and can get everybody in the clinical supply chain on one system (which has been seen to work at times).
But none of them appears to have considered the idea that there is a relationship between a healthy integrated health information ecosystem and a health information exchange marketplace. It’s still surprising to me, but precious few people correlate sustainability of any social good with the existence of a healthy marketplace with enough room for flexibility to allow innovation over time. It’s like the single economic condition responsible for ALMOST ALL of the social progress of this nation since inception, but in health care it’s still kind of a new idea.
Making clinical data liquid permeated a series of events I attended last week during Health Innovation Week in San Francisco. Monday and Tuesday found me at the HIE/REC conference. Wednesday was HealthCamp at Kaiser-Permanente’s Garfield Research Center (KP was extremely gracious in hosting this event and the opportunity to get a tour of the facilities prior to event kick-off was great). The week concluded with the annual and well-orchestrated Health 2.0 conference.
This first post will focus on the HIE/REC event as it was quite distinct from the other events: smaller audience, more staid, dominated by government officials and tied at the hip, for good and bad, to the existing healthcare system infrastructure.
The HIE/REC conference was an odd event with attendance hovering around 200 or so attendees. The event was focused almost entirely on what the States are doing with the federal funds coming their way to establish Regional Extension Centers (RECs) whose main objective is to get priority primary care physicians (PPCPs) to adopt and meaningfully use a certified EHR. Now, having been to this event and heard many of the State REC initiatives that are now underway via this program, sad to say that my original opinion has not changed. Rather than picking preferred EHRs and assisting with deployment, these RECs may be better off just helping to these PPCPs understand exactly what the HITECH Act is, what are their options, what questions to ask of a vendor or service provider and leave it to EHR consultants and vendors to take it from there.
The Health Information Exchange (HIE) market is the Wild West right now. Vendors are telling us that theyre seeing an unprecedented level of activity both for private and public HIEs. Private HIEs are being set-up by large and small healthcare organizations to more tightly align affiliated physicians to a hospital or IDN to drive referrals and longer term, better manage transitions in care in anticipation of payment reform. Public HIEs are those state driven initiatives that have blossomed with the $560M+ of federal funding via the HITECH Act.
But this mad rush is creating some problems.
While the private HIEs seem to have their act together in putting together their Request for Proposals (RFPs), such is not the case for the state-driven initiatives. Rather then formulating a long-term strategy for the HIE by performing a needs assessment for their state, setting priorities and laying out a phased, multi-year strategy to get there, far too many states are trying to “boil the ocean” with RFPs that list every imaginable capability that will all magically go live within a couple of years of contract reward. Now it is hard to say who is at fault for these RFPs, is it the state or the consultants they have contracted with that formulated these lofty, unreachable goals, but this is a very real problem and unfortunately, the feds are providing extremely little guidance to the states on best practices.
At last, we have received from Mt. Olympus those much awaited writings….the definition of “meaningful use”!
I understand how we got here. I could put myself in the shoes of government decision-makers at every step of the way and see myself doing the same thing. “Step in and help … EMR adoption is too slow and costs are rising too high … the free market isn’t working, so step in.” I get that.
“Make the definitions hard and truly meaningful so that after we are thrown out of office, the social benefit of this program of ours will outlast the pure stimulus effect and create real social change in the health care market.” I get that too.
“Let hospital-owned practices into the mix. Even though we know they have the money, we want their leadership. Also, lots of docs are affiliated with hospitals.” This one was tough for me even though I have a lot of hospital clients that own practices and are growing that business.
“Delay a little to see if we can get more people to our higher standard.” Okay.Continue reading…
By VINCE KURAITIS, JD, & DAVID KIBBE, MD
Pop quiz: Among early-stage companies that are successful, what percentage are successful with the initial business model with which they started (Plan A) vs. a secondary business model (Plan B)?
Harvard Business School Professor Clay Christensen studied this issue. He found that among successful companies, only 7% succeeded with their initial business model, while 93% evolved into a different business model.
So let’s take this finding and reexamine our human nature. In light of these statistics, what makes more sense:
- Defending Plan A to your dying breath?
- Assuming Plan A is probably flawed, and anticipating the need for Plan B without getting defensive?
We question many of the assumptions underlying HITECH Plan A. We also want to talk about the need and content for Plan B in a constructive way.Continue reading…
Earlier this month I read in The New York Times (okay, someone read it to me), that hospitals and docs are saying “meaningful use” is just too much, too fast. I have to say, I would sympathize . . . if I didn’t know about the Internet!
If someone told me that the federal government was going to make (or at least ‘encourage’) everyone commute via hot-air balloon by 2011, I’d start to feel edgy right about now. How do you make or buy one? Who sells them? What if the wind blows the wrong way?
This would be my panic—unless I knew about a little-known hot-air balloon service that DEALS with all of it. Like a taxi service. You tell it where you want to go and when and then boom! a balloon shows up piloted, prepped and ready.
Such a quandary exists in the EMR market today. Everyone thinks the government rules mean that meaningfully using electronic health information actually means meaningfully using information you BUILD YOURSELF! They think you have to buy EMRs and servers and program them to meet government rules and then re-program them to meet rule changes. This would give me hives, even if I were a giant health system. Even systems with big budgets don’t have a comparative advantage in programming software!Continue reading…