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Health Information Exchanges

New: A podcast produced by the AMA and HIMSS about physician engagement with HIEs explains more about the benefits, challenges and requirements of participating in an HIE. A transcript of the podcast is also available.

Health Information Exchanges (HIEs) are entities that bring together health care stakeholders within a defined geographic area and govern the electronic sharing of health information among them for the purpose of improving health and care in that community.  The fundamental concept behind creating HIEs is that the ability to exchange health information electronically is critical to the efforts to improve the US health care system.

The governance, structure and geographic scope of HIEs vary across the country.  Some may serve a small geographic region, while others serve an entire state or multi-state region.  HIEs also differ in technical models, with some acting as conduits of health information and others serving as repositories of health data.  There is also wide variance in the types of clinical data exchanged and services offered by HIEs.

Because HIEs are an emerging field within health information technology, many physicians may be unfamiliar with HIEs and the potential benefits and risks involved in participation.  The AMA resource, Physicians' Frequently Asked Questions on Health Information Exchanges, will provide you with answers to common questions related to physicians' participation in HIEs.

Due to the wide variation in HIE structure, services and data exchange models, it is critical that physicians have complete information about an HIE and the impact of participation on their practice before signing a contract.  The AMA resource, What questions should I ask before I sign a contract to participate in a particular HIE? provides a list of questions and topics that physicians should research before agreeing to join an HIE.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) document on "The HIPAA Privacy Rule and Electronic Health Information Exchange in a Networked Environment" provides additional information.