5 keys to getting your HIE capabilities up and running

By Michelle McNickle
06:27 PM

Health information exchange is an integral part of many HIT initiatives, including the meaningful use of health IT and healthcare reform. While still a relatively new capability, the idea of transferring sensitive information securely is enough to make organizations nationwide take note.

Sonal Patel, vice president of client services at Corepoint Health, suggests five keys to getting your HIE up and running.

1. Have a strategy in place. According to Patel, HIEs have become the center of attention these days, and she suggests organizations take baby steps in this arena while developing a strategy that’s their own.  Whether it’s an acute care facility, a larger ambulatory care organization, or standalone centers that submit results to an HIE, all are in a situation where, “they need to ask themselves about the surrounding market, their environments, and what approach they want to take to the market,” she said. “Do they want to use this connection as a differentiating factor, or a capability to move forward? It’s a decision that’s made at a higher level as to where integration occurs.”

2. Pursue education. Once a strategy is created, Patel says to focus on your people. “If they’re not educated, they may need to be educated on the various topics,” she said. “What are the standards out there, what is an HIE and what does it mean to exchange data using the standards and IHE profiles." Privacy and security regulations are also a given, especially surrounding the electronic exchange of PHI, she said. And once employees understand the fundamentals of an HIE, Patel says to consider the different approaches. “So with the HIE, we can either store the information here or retrieve it,” she said. “It’s putting data into a repository and having the ability to retrieve it and query it. [Organizations need to] understand what part of the equation they want to pursue, and their people will make a difference.”

[See also: HIE, REC efforts have some CIOs worried.]

3. Keep workflow in mind. Focusing on workflow and making sure the proper technology is in place are both crucial steps to getting your HIE capabilities running. “We talk about workflow here in terms of integration because workflow sounds easy enough – ‘I just want my data over there' – but if you start getting into the details of what that means, there are a lot of questions to ask,” Patel said. What the purpose of your data is and what kind of data you have (results, demographics, etc.) are just a few aspects to explore. “There are a lot of details to cover, and what’s the time frame,” she said. “Certain pieces of data are available in near real time, and there’s data available at a certain point in time. … Understanding that workflow encompasses what kind of data [you have], how [you’re] going to deliver it, and what’s the architecture.” 

4. Be flexible. HIEs are in a learning phase, said Patel, so everyone learning what an HIE could and should do should try to have a flexible environment. “Technology will help in that realm,” she said. “We’ve seen if you have the right technology in place to be nimble and say, for example, 'We need the data to look like this,’ or ‘We thought we could do Web services but we can’t, we have to do it through the Direct Project,’ it makes it easier to switch gears quickly,” she said. Having a tool of some kind, especially in “the world of integration and interface engine,” said Patel, serves a host of benefits, “especially in terms of simplifying integration [in order] for you to have access to all your standards and protocols of information.”

[See also: HIE that really works.]

5. Be patient and thorough. Take a small, critical-care hospital with 25 beds for example, said Patel. “[It] may have a single, monolithic system, like CPSI or MEDITECH, and they haven’t had a need to do integration before. For them to embark on a project with HIE, it can be overwhelming because they’ve never done interfacing before internally.” Implementation times vary, said Patel, and the most important thing to keep in mind is your specific strategy. “Understanding the market strategy and putting the people, workflows, and technology in place to support that strategy,” she said, is the key to HIE success.

Follow Michelle McNickle on Twitter, @Michelle_writes