Mind to Market

Friday, June 18, 2010

RHIOs Back in Business

Sometime back I blogged about the problems facing Regional Health Information Organizations (RHIO) in this country; that they were having trouble getting buy in from providers and lacked a compelling value proposition. The American Health Information Community (AHIC), an advisory group to the federal government, went so far as to recommend that providers using health IT systems receive higher reimbursement rates for treating Medicare patients.

In the intervening years a new administration has come in and brought with it the ARRA and stimulus funding to carry out just what the AHIC recommended; incentivize the use of health IT systems through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). RHIOs, or as they are sometimes known; Health Information Exchanges (HIE), are back in business and this time it may be to stay.

The CMS has developed guidelines for what healthcare providers must accomplish in order to receive these payments phased in over three stages in the next five years. An ambitious plan, its implementation will be major step in advancing the country’s healthcare system.

But what will we do with all this health information moving around? The advent of HIEs will bring what may be considered an enormous step forward in public health. No longer will epidemics and outbreaks be reported via phone, fax and telegraph to a central government facility, but health information will be transferred.

Before you start getting anxious about the government prying into your private life, this is syndromic surveillance, i.e. the analysis of medical data to detect or anticipate disease outbreaks. The data will be deidentified so as to preserve the privacy of individual patients. Currently the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) performs such surveillance using a variety of different measures including school absenteeism. Google has even developed a tool based on search engine queries which lead the CDC’s results by 1-2 weeks.

As one of the guidelines the CMS has given hospitals, they have listed an objective for the hospitals to submit electronic syndromic surveillance data to public health agencies. This means that by as early as 2011, hospitals may be automatically sending their surveillance information to public health agencies. This has the potential to significantly improve the speed and effectiveness of detecting the outbreak of diseases, such as an H1N1 epidemic, or other public health emergencies.

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