Health information exchanges (HIEs) and interoperability

The ability to share patient data is critical for the independent physician to provide value-based care for that patient. When a patient sees specialty providers or undergoes lab tests, the primary care physician must have the visit notes and test results to provide appropriate, effective care. Exchanging information electronically is much more efficient than sharing patient data on paper, either hand delivered or via fax.

Physicians who use electronic health records (EHRs) can take advantage of the electronic sharing of patient information between different EHR systems and healthcare providers, improving the ease with which doctors can provide care to their patients and patients can move in and out of different care facilities. This electronic sharing through EHRs is referred to as interoperability, a vital piece of the accurate and timely transmission of patient data between EHR systems.

Health information exchange (HIE) enables that interoperability to happen. As the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) describes it, interoperability involves an exchange of patient data that can be viewed and understood on both ends. Interoperable EHR systems “must be able to exchange data and subsequently present that data such that a user can understand it.  In order to ensure interoperability, the use of standards enable data to be shared across disparate healthcare settings regardless of the application or vendor.” HIE, explains the HIMSS, is a “a dynamic and evolving landscape … critical for successful healthcare reform, enabling interoperability and meaningful use of health information and technology.”

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC Health IT) further explains that HIE “allows health care professionals and patients to appropriately access and securely share a patient’s medical information electronically. There are many health care delivery scenarios driving the technology behind the different forms of health information exchange available today.”

Health IT states that “sharing electronic patient information enables providers to:

  • Access and confidentially share patients’ vital medical history, no matter where patients are receiving care—specialists’ offices, labs, or emergency rooms
  • Provide safer, more effective care tailored to patients’ unique medical needs.”

Interoperability between EHR systems, powered by HIE, would make health care data universally sharable, facilitating patient care, and allowing for seamless referrals and transitions between healthcare providers.