On September 30, the U.S. Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT awarded $2.5 million allocated in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act as grants to five Health Information Exchange (HIE) applicants via the STAR HIE Program. They are Georgia Health Information Network (GaHIN), Health Current (based in Arizona), HealthShare Exchange of Southeastern Pennsylvania (HSX), Kansas Health Information Network (KHIN/KONZA), and the Texas Health Services Authority.As someone who has had the good fortune to work with several HIE organizations this year developing technologies to aid health care and public health professionals in pandemic response, I can attest that this is important funding serving a critical need.
As proposed by the National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics (NCVHS) in 2001 and formally codified by the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009, health-information exchange encompasses the electronic sharing of health-related data between permissioned entities and the various standards established to facilitate that process safely and reliably.
Regional Health Information Organizations (RHIOs), which are now more commonly known as HIEs, are organizations that have since grown to provide health information exchange technology and services at the state, regional, or national level. There are about 100 of them currently operating in the country and they are an invaluable resource helping doctors, hospitals, public health officials, and government agencies manage and make use of health information, especially during a time of unprecedented health crisis.
As explained by the ONC:
- HIEs serve as hubs for rich data from a multitude of sources.
- They are often regional entities with a strong understanding of local health care environments and policies dictating health data.
- They act as trusted third parties who work with otherwise competitive health care entities.
- They either actively support public health agencies or have the ability to do so (via public health reporting support or data quality improvement services, for example).
The STAR grants are intended to support these organizations in extending or establishing services and capabilities to better support public health progress and readiness.
It is my great hope that those organizations awarded funding will invest it in IT infrastructure modernization that will increase their ability to serve those needs.
The pandemic has demonstrated that protecting community health often hinges on access to vital real-time data and analytics. As agents of trustworthy health information exchange, HIEs are key in fueling those capabilities for public health departments and constituent healthcare stakeholders in the areas they serve.
However, many regional HIEs remain dependent on antiquated and inflexible internal data centers with restrictive resource provisioning and storage limitations, arresting their ability supply the necessary health data when and where it is needed.
Those limitations need to be addressed as quickly as possible. HIEs should be able to spin up as much computational power as desired on demand and deal with as much data as any situation requires without bandwidth worries. In the age of inexpensive, secure, and readily available cloud power— where most people walk around with what is essentially a mobile supercomputer in their pockets—data center resource constraints should not be dictating the capabilities of our best health information assets.
I applaud the overarching goal of the STAR HIE program, and I encourage those awarded to make the most of this opportunity to future-proof their IT infrastructure and unlock the full power of their crucial health data.
To learn how Cloudticity is helping HIEs leverage the cloud in order to unlock the power of their data, check out the data interoperability eBook.