HIE sustainability: How organizations stay relevant, innovative [Special Report]

By Dan Bowman

Amid the push to improve interoperability between providers using disparate electronic health record systems, the importance of health information exchanges (HIEs) cannot be overlooked. Such organizations enable hospitals, health systems and physician practices, among others, to stay connected to one another, despite the use of tools designed to store, rather than share, patient data.

HIE sustainability, however, is hardly a given. For instance, in July 2011, Kingsport, Tennessee-based regional health information organization CareSpark shuttered after failing to come up with a viable financial plan to stay afloat. Grant money the organization anticipated receiving never materialized, and CareSpark also lost a contract with the Social Security Administration for failing to meet SSA's requirements.

More recently, Connecticut's HIE, known as Health IT Exchange (HITE-CT), shut down this past December, in large part due to internal mismanagement and bad privacy policies that undermined public trust. Ellen Andrews, executive director of the Connecticut Health Policy Project, said the organization wasted $4.3 million in federal grants and accomplished nothing in four years.

"The key thing that I see across the county is that this business isn't necessarily viewed as business very often," Great Lakes Health Connect Executive Director Doug Dietzman tells FierceHealthIT. "It's a state project and it's a community good and it's a utility; there's truth to all of those things. But I think that when it comes down to providing services, making money, having enough--even in the nonprofit hospital world--you have to make enough money to cover your expenses to provide and do the good."

In addition to Dietzman, FierceHealthIT spoke with officials from two other thriving HIEs--Melissa Kotrys, CEO of Arizona Health-e Connection, and Charles Christian, vice president of technology and engagement with the Indiana Health Information Exchange--about their current models for success, as well as future plans to remain relevant and challenges to sustainability.

HIE sustainability: How organizations stay relevant, innovative [Special Report]