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Health information exchanges (HIEs) and interoperability

A photo of a physician looking at their smartphone

This blog was originally published in December 2018, and was updated in May 2023

The healthcare information exchange (HIE) is impacting healthcare interoperability. Many doctor offices, clinics, labs, hospitals, and other healthcare organizations are leveraging technology by making a shift from manual to electronic medical records processing. 

Implementing an HIE offers many benefits, from cost savings to enhanced patient outcomes. As such, it's crucial to understand the benefits, challenges, and future outlook of HIE in healthcare.  

What Is the Healthcare Information Exchange (HIE)? 

The healthcare information exchange (HIE) is an electronic way to securely access and share vital patient information between healthcare providers (e.g., doctors, nurses, pharmacists, etc.) and patients. 

This can be done through web portals, mobile apps, and other devices.

The ability to share patient data is critical for independent physicians to provide value-based care for their patients. 

For example, 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. Securely 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 benefit from the electronic sharing of patient information between different EHR systems and healthcare providers. This improves the ease with which doctors can provide care to their patients, and patients can move in and out of different care facilities. 

Why Is HIE Interoperability Important? 

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. 

Although the availability of EHRs has existed for some time, many people still rely on paper-based medical information. Sharing paper-based records has to be done via mail, fax, or in person, which are inefficient and potentially insecure methods of information exchange compared to using HIE. 

Challenges in Achieving HIE Interoperability 

While the electronic exchange of information offers more efficiency and security, it's not without challenges. Some of the obstacles that healthcare organizations and patients face in achieving HIE interoperability include:

  • Technical issues
  • Isolated EHR systems
  • Privacy issues

The ONC publishes the Interoperability Standards Advisory (ISA), which offers a set of IT standards designed to help combat some of these challenges. 

These standards fit within four levels of interoperability

  1. Foundational Interoperability (inter-connectivity)
  2. Structural Interoperability (data)
  3. Semantic Interoperability (infrastructure)
  4. Organizational Interoperability (rules)

Once these challenges are overcome and standards are met, you'll reap many benefits of HIE interoperability.

5 Benefits of HIE Interoperability for Both Patients and Providers 

As the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) describes, interoperability involves exchanging patient data that can be viewed and understood on both ends (patients and providers). HIE in healthcare, HIMSS further explains, is "a dynamic and evolving landscape…critical for successful healthcare reform, enabling interoperability and meaningful use of health information and technology." 

The many benefits of implementing HIE interoperability in your organization include the following: 

1. Secure Medical Data Sharing

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC Health IT) further explains that HIE in healthcare "allows healthcare professionals and patients to appropriately access and securely share a patient's medical information electronically.” 

Many healthcare delivery scenarios are driving the technology behind the different forms of health information exchange available today. 

Elation's EHR solution is ONC-certified. Elation's secure API seamlessly transfers healthcare data while protecting the data itself. 

Application Programming Interface (API) consists of the following components: 

  • Application – the software serving a specific purpose 
  • Programming – the design (or coding) of the application 
  • Interface – the structure between which two entities or organizations exchange information 

Access and confidentially share patients' vital medical history efficiently, no matter where patients are receiving care—specialists' offices, labs, or emergency rooms. Our ONC-certified, HIPAA-compliant EHR enables engineering teams to connect to third-party applications through our secure API

2. Enhance Patient Safety and Outcomes 

Health information exchange and interoperability provide safer, more effective care. Providers can use HIE in healthcare to tailor care to each patient's unique medical needs.

Additionally, electronic record-keeping ensures that a patient's medical history is more complete and readily available for review during future visits.

3. Improve Data Sharing Efficiency

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

4. Reduce Healthcare Costs 

According to, using a secure HIE in healthcare helps improve speed, quality, and safety and the cost of patient care. Efficient HIE interoperability can help avoid costly mistakes and reduce overall healthcare costs. 

 5. Enable Population Health Management

HIE interoperability can help healthcare organizations aggregate and analyze patient data from multiple sources. This helps them to identify health trends and develop targeted interventions to improve population health. 

Enable Interoperability with Elation EHR

Elation's EHR API makes it simple to connect with your existing data and build your own applications.

The Importance of EHR Integration

HIE integrates with EHR systems to achieve interoperability. EHR integration with third-party systems makes HIE a powerful tool because it allows healthcare organizations to improve operational efficiency. 

Elation EHR's API connects to 100+ third-party systems to enable better patient care. Integration with labs, practice management, and billing systems. See all of our EHR API integrations

Future Outlook for HIEs and Interoperability

HIE technology is instrumental when it comes to sharing information and engaging with patients. 

It's also clear the vital role that HIEs and interoperability will play in healthcare reform and improved healthcare outcomes. The outlook for HIEs and interoperability shows much potential for future growth and impact for organizations looking for tech-forward approaches to healthcare.

While implementing HIE in healthcare comes with several challenges, the benefits far outweigh what it takes to overcome those challenges. From improved patient care to reduced healthcare costs, it pays to take a more modern approach by incorporating electronic recordkeeping and information exchange into your organization. 

Elation can help you do just that! 

Achieve Seamless HIE Interoperability with Elation Health's Clinical-First EHR 

Elation's CEHRT platform delivers a modern, easy-to-use clinical EHR solution. Our open API can help you build seamless, secure applications for comprehensive, personalized care. 

Contact us to access our developer Sandbox and see how our clinical-first EHR helps your organization deliver tech-forward solutions.