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HIMSS 2011: Exchange is in the Air

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, February 22, 2011

Healthcare reform, meaningful use, interoperability, and privacy and security are hot topics among attendees at the annual CHIME and HIMSS conferences in Orlando this week, of course. But this year there seems to be an increased emphasis on secure and accurate exchange of healthcare data—whether among members of local or regional cooperatives, private for- and non-profit exchanges, state-run HIEs, or individual systems that just want the hospitals, clinics, specialists, and primary care physicians in their network to do a better job of communicating electronically (and no, faxing doesn't count).

At one point, Kaiser Permanente had 2,000 systems that were barely communicating, said John Mattison, MD, CMIO of Kaiser Permanente Southern California during a CHIME town hall on health information exchange. "I couldn't solve the problem locally without solving it globally," he said. Solutions, he explained, include open-source collaboration and standardized terminology.

The benefits to quality, safety, and continuity of care are obvious—and the main impetus for eHealth initiatives. But there are other perks as well. Systems that take simple steps such as coordinating and tracking referrals electronically, for example, can help primary care physicians ensure that their patients are getting the care they need. They also boost revenue for the simple reason that more patients are getting—and showing up to—appointments.

But while the good news is that getting everyone speaking the same IT language can improve care, increase efficiency, and boost the bottom line, the challenge is that change is still, well, change. Change management might be a bit of a hackneyed phrase, but there's no doubt that it's a key to success. Giving up phone calls and faxes means creating new procedures that many different people in many different organizations must implement in exactly the same way—otherwise everything falls apart.

That holds true on a larger scale, as well—individual HIEs won't be able to communicate across state lines, for example, without a common framework and standards. Creating such standards will require organizations (including competitors) to trust one another, but it's a critical aspect of success, Mattison says.

Not an easy task.

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