When the San Diego Regional Health Information Exchange relaunched recently under a new name, San Diego Health Connect, it also laid claim to long-term viability by announcing that it had added two major regional health systems to its network, Scripps Health and Sharp HealthCare.
These additions increase the potential number of patients the HIE can serve from 800,000 to more than 2.1 million, boosting the odds that the organization will live on past the expiration of the federal grant dollars that got it started. The San Diego HIE was the largest of 17 established with $250 million in grants given out over the past three years by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The grants were an attempt to spark the creation of a national network of HIEs that would encourage data exchange between healthcare providers at all levels. Now that the money is running out, the future of these institutions is in question. To survive, they must seek the support of the communities and institutions they serve by proving the value of their service.
San Diego Health Connect Executive Director Daniel J. Chavez said the involvement of Scripps and Sharp shows they recognize the value of a community data interchange, even though each operates a private HIE for its member institutions. At the same time, San Diego Health Connect needs to also bring individual physician practices into the network, and these endorsements lend momentum.
"It's a little like running a shopping mall -- if I can bring the traffic to the mall, stores will show up, and the largest players in town are my anchor tenants," Chavez said. Scripps and Sharp are the region's two largest commercial healthcare networks, he said. Other major players include Kaiser Permanente and the Veterans Administration, who are already members, and the Department of Defense, which the HIE is working to enroll.
To be truly useful, San Diego Health Connect also needs to enroll individual patients, which is a slow process of getting patients to agree when they visit a participating practice or hospital.
Those predicting the demise of HIEs are being impatient, Chavez said. "It takes three to five years to make it all work," he said. "We're about three years away from critical mass. It requires 75% or more of the healthcare community to be on board, and we also have to get the patients to sign off on letting us share their information. That's why it takes longer than people usually anticipate."