Unless you are just entering the health care field or have been on a VERY long vacation, you are undoubtedly aware of the widespread acceptance and utilization of electronic health records (EHRs) across a wide variety of health care practice settings.

EHRs offer numerous advantages over paper health records, including:

  • Improved access to client/patient information
  • Better and more complete documentation of care

Health care professionals need to also become familiar with a related development that will further improve health care quality and services, that of Health Information Exchange (HIE) of EHR data.

Let’s look at the following topics together (this is a two part blog – be sure to check out Part Two as well!):

  • What is a HIE?
  • What are the benefits of HIEs?

In Part Two, we will explore:

  • What are the challenges of HIEs and how will exchange of data actually occur?
  • What YOU can and should do regarding HIEs
  • HIE references and resources you should be aware of

9566489_m-resized-600What is a HIE?

If you work for an agency that relies on Medicare and/or Medicaid reimbursements, you may already be familiar with the concept of meaningful use criteria, which dictates what features EHRs must have in order to be certified and eligible for incentive payments from these two federal programs.

The Stage 2 Meaningful Use Rule released in August 2012 by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) contains a variety of requirements,including a continued emphasis on facilitating HIE and access to health data and facilitation of transitions of care.

Please note that the term Health Information Exchange (HIE) is commonly used both as a verb and a noun and can refer to the exchange of data as well as an organization or network that exchanges health information data among members.

Health Information Exchanges (HIEs) at the local, state, and federal levels are rapidly being developed to allow secure HIE within and among agencies and providers, such as

  • Physicians
  • Hospitals
  • Public health programs
  • Schools
  • Government agencies
  • Laboratories
  • Pharmacies

Think of the advantages to our clients – their key health information (not their entire health record) shared electronically and accessed easily, quickly, and securely among all involved in their care, including themselves!

In response to the need for this secure exchange of information, ONC has provided funding for a number of health IT programs, including the development of the Nationwide Health Information Network, which has developed a set of standards, services, and policies to allow secure exchange of health information over the Internet.

CONNECT is a free, open source software solution available at the local and national level to support HIE within and between organizations.

The ONC’s Direct Project is also developing standards and services that will allow HIE at an even less complex and more local level.

11103850_l-resized-600What are the benefits of HIEs?

Gosh, where to start?

The potential benefits of HIEs are many, for clients, for providers/programs, and for the health system as a whole:

  • Better, more efficient, and faster transitions of care/referrals and improved care coordination
  • Improved population health and public health tracking, improved reporting of communicable diseases, and improved ability to access data during mass casualty events (such as being able to access a displaced individual’s medication record)
  • Improved quality of care and reduction of health disparities
  • Empowerment of clients/patients by providing them with better access to and understanding of their own health information and ability to message with their health care providers
  • Increased data availability and increased volume of data to improve health-related research into most effective treatments and interventions


In Part Two of this blog, learn about the challenges of establishing HIEs and how the transfer of data will actually occur, as well as what you should be doing as part of this exciting development that will lead to better health care for all Americans.

We’ll throw in some useful website references as well.

Read Health Information Exchanges: What are They…And Why Should You Care? (Part 2)