HIEs need state funding to survive

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For a state health information exchange (HIE) to be successful, lobbying in the legislature plays an integral role, reported Gina Perez, executive director of the Delaware Health Information Network (DHIN) and Devore Culver, executive director of Maine’s HealthInfoNet, at a Dallas conference sponsored by the Office of the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology (ONCHIT).

Perez and Culver lead state HIEs that are regarded as among the more successful in the United States. Data exchange has been under way for about a year in Delaware and is being launched in Maine, reported Government Health IT.

In Delaware, the legislature laid the groundwork for the HIE in 1997 but without funding. The DHIN was organized after the state received two federal grants and in fiscal 2007, the state legislature provided $2 million in upfront capital that required matching funds, Perez said.

When DHIN’s founders raised the money to match the federal funds, they received $3 million from the legislature the following year, again with the matching requirement. This year DHIN has asked for $2.5 million in state funds. According to Perez, this shows that legislature now sees the value of having an HIE.

Perez and Culver both argued that HIE is good for the public, but it’s difficult to explain that to legislators, they said. The biggest hurdle is simply explaining how HIEs work.

Legislators are looking for a “silver bullet” to the healthcare crisis, Culver said. “HIE is not a silver bullet but it is one of the few things that you can do that might make a difference in the healthcare delivered to many people,” he added.

Despite the fact that both Delaware and Maine HIEs are expected to generate revenue for their operations, Culver said that HIE “is not going to be sustainable in itself” and continued state funding—warranted by measurable improvements in healthcare quality and reductions in medical errors—is likely to be needed, according to Government Health IT.

Perez warned, however, that lobbying and public relations can go too far. “If you have to spend too much time selling the idea, then maybe you need to re-evaluate the idea,” she said.