The Case for RHIO and HIE for Sharing Patient Data

Posted on January 11, 2009 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

If you’ve been reading my blog, then you know that I’ve started a pretty interesting and complicated discussion about EHR and EMR sharing of patient data. I first posted an example of sharing data with an EHR and then followed it up with some challenges associated with sharing of EHR data.

In my interoperability challenges post, Bjorn from Health Xcel posted a lengthy comment discussing some challenges of data sharing and made the case for RHIO (Regional Health Information Organizations) and HIE (Health Information Exchanges) as a means for sharing patient data between hospitals and doctors offices.

His comment was so well done that I’m copying it below for more people to see and read it. I don’t personally agree with everything that was said. I also think he didn’t address the funding challenges of RHIO and the policy problems. Maybe Bjorn will return with some comments on how those might work. Enjoy Bjorn’s take on RHIO and HIE (emphasis added):

I think Google Health and MS HealthVault will be good awareness catalysts for the quiet e-health revolution that is taking place. However, I do not think the defining change we need lies with their business model. A patient-centric model sounds good but we’d be assuming that everyone has an account with one of these systems and that they know how to use them. How will the data about a patient that is stored in a hospital be reconciled with Google Health? Which of course leads to interoperability concerns.

Web 2.0 does not lend itself to creating a reliable e-health solution either as service A is dependent on service B and if service B is down, service A won’t function and has no power to fix it by their own volition.

I think so far the industry, aka hospitals, has been trying to solve the problem by adding a patient interface to large hospital systems so patients can see their records. It’s also a step in the right direction but again it is not the golden calf we are looking for.

So what is the ideal system of the future?
A patient should be able to enter any hospital in the world, conscious or unconscious, and the hospital should have all the information they need about the patient to administer correct treatment and to notify the right people.

How do we do this?
I am a believer in the HIE / RHIO model. In the [not too distant] future, hospitals should concern themselves with healing people and not how to spend their IT budget. Hospitals, insurance agencies, smaller providers and patients will all be connected to an RHIO (Region Health Information Organization) where they will have a wealth of services; either to enter sensitive data or to discover data about one patient or the entire population. RHIOs will be connected to a larger e-health backbone consisting of HIEs that are the great data aggregators of the world. RHIOs would be responsible for conforming to regional regulations. This model is similar to how we connect to the Internet today. We don’t jack directly into one of the main Internet hubs of the world but go through an ISP that can provide us with an email address, a web page AND connect us to the rest of the world.

HIEs and RHIOs run on a software platform where health IT vendors can deploy their software applications. Some required components:

User discovery
o Any one node on the system should be able to query the other nodes to find a user and her data
Portable user
o This goes with the first bullet point in that a user should be able to log in to the system anywhere in the world and even though the user does not have an account with the RHIO she is directly interfacing with, RHIO should know how to authenticate her correctly
Interoperability / Standards / Data aggregation and discovery
o The key to any successful e-health venture. Services need to be able to talk to each other. It shouldn’t matter whether the services reside within the same application or in different parts of the world. I believe the semantic web (web 3.0) will be a key facilitator of making this possible.
Federated security
o If we take the previous examples of Google Health and MS HealthVault, they would all have to have their own security scheme and user authentication and access control. Multiply that by a dozen and suddenly a lot of money is being spent on recreating the wheel over and over. We need a unified system for this.
o All applications should reside server side and users should have thin-client access only. When the applications are being updated, it should happen across the board overnight. If something goes wrong, there should be a way to undo the upgrade without hospitals or anyone else having to do anything.
Data sharing
o The patient-centric network will definitely happen as users become more educated. But hospitals still need to be able to have access to patient data even though they have not been granted access, in case of emergency.

Ok, this suddenly got really long ;-) There is a lot of work to do for everyone in order to get true e-health solutions to work. The biggest obstacles aren’t technical but political and also the willingness to adopt a new way of interfacing with your health.