What is Health Information Exchange?

Electronic health information exchange (HIE) is a virtual network that allows health data to be shared between the health systems and their medical providers.

Electronic health information exchange (HIE) is a digital network allowing the exchange of health information between medical systems and their healthcare partners. HIEs allow pharmacists, doctors, nurses, other care providers, and patients to digitally share and view patient medical records and information. 

As you can imagine, using an HIE dramatically improves the speed of patient care, which subsequently reduces wait times, increases patient satisfaction, and decreases costs. 

At this point, you’re probably thinking, “These benefits sound great, but what does health information exchange mean?” 

This blog post will introduce you to what HIE is, why using HIE is necessary, and the benefits your health organization can expect to receive by using it. 

What is Electronic HIE? 

As shared in the introduction, the definition of health information exchange is simply the use of a digital system to share patient data between healthcare organizations. 

A common objection to switching to electronic HIE is, “My practice has incorporated a streamlined faxing process that works well with our business flow. Why upgrade to HIE when our current faxing system works just fine?”

What sets HIE apart from faxing is the standardization of data. If healthcare providers and their partners share information through the HIE, then the data is standardized and a set of standard operating procedures are in place to ensure that the correct information is entered every time. 

Standardization results in fewer duplicate treatments, fewer costly errors, and improved patient care at a rate that a traditional faxing process simply can’t compete with. 

For example, standardized data can be easily uploaded to an organization’s Electronic Health Record (EHR), further improving care. This enables providers to receive lab results through the HIE, quickly review data, generate lists of patients with certain conditions, and easily schedule appointments. 

Why is HIE Necessary?

Even though secure electronic data transfer is available nationwide, the majority of American’s medical data is being stored in medical offices’ filing cabinets and scattered around patients’ homes. When patient data is needed, it is shared on paper by fax, mail, or frequently, by the patients themselves — forced to carry sheets of records around with them from appointment to appointment.  

Health information exchange brings data sharing into the 21st Century by removing the risk of misplacing paper records, improving the completeness of records, and allowing data to be quickly accessed by providers and patients. 

These efficiencies help providers make better decisions at the point of care, enabling them to: 

  • Improve diagnoses
  • Avoid medical errors
  • Decrease duplicate testing
  • Reduce re-admissions

What Does Health Information Exchange Look Like?

At this time, there are three primary forms of health information exchange:

  • Query-Based Exchange: gives providers the ability to request or look-up a patient’s records from other providers — often necessary for unplanned care.
  • Directed Exchange: enables providers and their partners to digitally send and receive data in a secure way, streamlining coordinated care. 
  • Consumer Mediated Exchange: gives patients the ability to view and control the use of their data between providers.

Each of these forms of HIE is fully developed and has a solid foundation of policies, standards, and technology beneath it. To help you understand which form would be best for your medical practice, the following sections will explore these options in more detail. 

Directed Health Information Exchange

Directed HIE is somewhat similar to sending secure, encrypted emails and is popular among providers who need to frequently send patient records and data to other health care practices — lab results, discharge summaries, patient referrals, etc. 

Instead of risking data leaks by mailing such information, directed exchange helps health care professionals exchange this information in a secure, encrypted, and fast way. 

Being able to quickly exchange information, like electronic care summaries, helps providers speed-up care, which benefits patients as well. For example, a clinic can use directed HIE to forward a care summary to a specialist when referring a patient. This summary could include lab results, medication history, and symptoms, helping the specialist avoid redundant testing, duplicate information requests, and other medical errors. 

An on-the-ground example of directed health information exchange in action is The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). CMS uses directed HIE to receive immunization data from other public health companies and to request quality measure reports. 

Query-Based Exchange

Query-based health information exchange gives providers the ability to search an electronic data-base for information about a patient. This form of HIE is crucial for healthcare facilities that provide unplanned care. 

For example, if a pregnant patient goes into labor unexpectedly and rushes to a hospital where she is not a patient, the doctor there can use query-based exchange to look-up her pregnancy care record. This enables the care team to make educated healthcare decisions about the mother and her baby. 

Query-based exchange is also frequently used by emergency room physicians, who use HIE to gather information about patients. This reduces the risk of medication reactions and other adverse medical problems.

Consumer-Mediated HIE

While the two previous forms of HIE are intended to help providers give better care, consumer-mediated exchange is designed to empower patients by giving them access to their health records and data. 

Consumer-mediated HIE is usually conducted through some kind of patient portal — a website that functions similarly to online banking and other data-access sites. This platform allows patients to complete tasks like these:

  • Track and monitor their health progress
  • Identify and correct errors in their billing information
  • Forward their health information to providers
  • Review their health information and correct errors
  • Update their health record with missing information

Benefits of Health Information Exchange

Electronic health information exchange benefits everyone involved in the healthcare sphere, from providers and their partners, to the patients themselves. HIE ensures that information is entered, organized, and managed in a standardized way, drastically reducing medical errors. 

Through consumer-mediated exchange, HIE also gives patients the ability to take a more active role in their own healthcare — sending them automatic appointment reminders, allowing them to manually update their health information, and reducing check-in paperwork by allowing them to enter this data via their patient portal. 

Other powerful benefits of HIE are that it: 

  • Reduces paperwork and the possibility of wasting time on duplicate forms.
  • Enhances public health monitoring and healthcare reporting.
  • Prevents redundant testing, thus increasing quality of care.
  • Encourages patients to take a more active role in their health, motivating them to learn more about their health care.
  • Improves patient care by reducing medical errors like duplicate medication and other issues stemming from miscommunication or a lack of communication between medical providers. 
  • Motivates healthcare providers to take advantage of the latest technology. 
  • Reduces the cost of health care.

Get Started With HIE

Now that you understand what HIE is and the incredible benefits it can bring to your health organization, then next step is figuring out which of the three forms of HIE would be best for your practice to implement. 

For professional guidance on which form of HIE would produce the greatest return on investment for your organization, contact Syntrix Consulting Group today.

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