Health Care IT Managers Want to Adopt HIEs, but Lack of Funds Stymies Them

Health care IT managers have interest in connecting to health information exchanges but lack the resources to adopt them, according to a survey by consulting firm Beacon Partners.

Health care IT managers want to adopt health information exchanges, but a lack of capital may hold them back, according to a new survey by health care management consulting firm Beacon Partners.

HIEs allow hospitals, laboratories, pharmacies and physicians to share electronic health records (EHRs) across a region, community or health system.

More than 200 C-suite health care executives responded to the study, with at least 58 percent from community hospitals. About 15 percent of respondents were from academic medical centers.

Beacon Partners announced the results of the study, called "Health Information Exchange Study: Assessing the Interest and Value in HIE Participation," on Jan. 19.

Despite high startup costs and insufficient capital, 70 percent of health care executives surveyed are planning for an HIE.

"The intent is all there," Kevin Burchill, director at Beacon Partners, told eWEEK. "The question from an ongoing standpoint is what happens when the money dries up."

When member organizations run low on funds, they must call on other hospitals, local physician practices and nursing homes in an HIE to contribute resources for the platforms, Burchill said.

In addition, 66 percent of respondents believe HIEs would be positive for their organization, and 42 percent see HIEs as beneficial to patient outcomes. Reducing medical errors was a key reason for implementing HIEs, according to respondents.

Of respondents surveyed, 38 percent have formed annual budgets for HIEs of less than $1 million, and 21 percent lack a budget altogether for HIEs.

While the Obama administration has agreed to reimburse hospital for the cost of implementing EHR programs if they meet meaningful use criteria, HIEs generally fall lower on the priority list for funding, Burchill noted.

Although HIEs do get grant money from the federal government or private corporations, once those initials funds run out, it's up to the hospitals to find the funds to keep health exchange platforms in operation.

"When you get past the seed money, those resources go back to organizations governing the health information exchange," Burchill said. However, larger hospitals tend to have more funds and the IT expertise to take on HIEs.

Hospitals and doctors' offices are prioritizing their funds to cover routine medical needs first, Burchill said.

Meanwhile, about half of the survey respondents don't have an executive to run an HIE.

Many states are funding HIEs that will have common data standards, but local proprietary data platforms also exist. Sharing of data among doctors and specialists could increase continuity of care.

One factor driving up HIE costs for health care organizations is the need to keep the data secure and conform to HIPAA regulations, Burchill said.

"When you're competing for limited capital dollars, the OR and radiology departments generally chew up capital," Burchill said. "IT investment has generally been underfunded for a lot of organizations over the last number of years."

When using HIEs, respondents are most interested in connecting to clinical EHR data and least interested in connecting to payer claim networks, Beacon Partners reports.

IT companies have been working actively to form HIEs in multiple states. In November, a group of states and health care IT software vendors formed the EHR/HIE Interoperability Workgroup to allow various EHR and HIE platforms to support common data standards.

Xerox subsidiary ACS announced on Jan. 5 that it will build an HIE for Iowa. Another vendor, InterSystems, is providing the software for HIEs in states such as Illinois and Rhode Island.