Tuesday, March 25, 2008

US Regional Health Information Organizations and the Nationwide Health Information Network: Any Lessons for Canadians?

Professor, School of Health Information Science, University of Victoria, British Columbia, and visiting professor, City University London, England.

The creation of regional clinical data exchanges (usually referred to as RHIOs) is a centrepiece of the US national healthcare information technology strategy. How well are they doing and what lessons can we learn that might be applied here in Canada?

Background and Definitions

There seems to be general agreement in the United States that a Regional Health Information Organization (RHIO) is a neutral, non-governmental, multi-stakeholder organization that adheres to a defined governance structure to oversee the business and legal issues involved in facilitating the secure exchange of health information to advance the effective and efficient delivery of healthcare for individuals and communities. The geographic footprint of an RHIO can range from a local community to a large multi-state region. As regional networks of stakeholders mature, they often find the need for a formal independent organizational and governance structure (i.e., an RHIO) with systems to ensure accountability and sustainability for the benefit of all stakeholders. Experts maintain that RHIOs will help reduce administrative costs associated with paper-based patient records, provide quick access to automated test results and offer a consolidated view of a patient's history.

The terms RHIO and Health Information Exchange (HIE) are often used interchangeably though most would see HIE as a "concept" relating to the mobilization of healthcare information electronically across organizations within a region or community as opposed to an "organization." Typically, an HIE is a project or initiative focused around electronic data exchange between two or more organizations or stakeholders. This exchange may include clinical, administrative and financial data across a medical and or business trading area. HIEs may or may not be represented through a legal business entity or a formal business agreement between the participating parties.

Local Health Information Infrastructure (LHII) is a term occasionally used synonymously with RHIO. LHII was originally termed by the Office of the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology (ONCHIT) to describe the regional or local initiatives that are anticipated to be linked together to form an envisioned National Health Information Network (NHIN). The NHIN describes the technologies, standards, laws, policies, programs and practices that enable health information to be electronically shared among multiple stakeholders and decision makers to promote healthcare delivery. When completed, the NHIN will provide the foundation for an interoperable, standards- based network for the secure exchange of healthcare information in the United States.

The development of the vision of the NHIN began originally with the National Health Information Infrastructure (NHII) described more than a decade ago in the Institute of Medicine report The Computer-Based Patient Record. The original idea behind the NHII was that it would be an initiative set forth to improve the effectiveness, efficiency and overall quality of health and healthcare in the United States. This would be accomplished through a comprehensive knowledge-based network consisting of interoperable systems of clinical, public health and personal health information that would improve decision-making by making health information available when and where it is needed. These interoperable systems would use a set of technologies, standards, applications, systems, values and laws that support all facets of individual health, healthcare and public health.

The path toward reaching a NHIN is anticipated to be through the successful establishment of RHIOs. When completed, the envisioned NHIN will provide universal access to electronic health records. In 2004 - not surprisingly following a visit from British Prime Minister Tony Blair - President George Bush called for electronic health records to be widely available in the United States by 2014.

The federal government has launched initiatives to establish interoperability standards, examine variations in state privacy laws, conduct demonstrations of the NHIN and fund studies of areas such as strategies for state governments. Organizations such as the eHealth Initiative and the Markle Foundation have brought together the diversity of healthcare stakeholders and communities to share experiences, create tools and identify policies and steps that will facilitate the achievements to date.

RHIO Models and . . . . [to continue please click here]

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