Data demonstrates e-health progress

August has been a busy month for the eHealth Initiative Foundation.

Last week we released an important report: “Emerging Trends and Issues in Health Information Exchange: Selected Findings from eHealth Initiative Foundation’s Second Annual Survey of State, Regional and Community-Based Health Information Exchange Initiatives and Organizations.” Our findings will offer significant insight to policy-makers in the coming weeks and months. It will also serve as an important industry benchmark as we kickoff the fall with an all-star group of national experts at the HIT Summit (www.HITSummit.com) in Washington, D.C., Sept. 7-9.

Our 2005 survey shows that the number of fully operational health information exchange initiatives has increased from nine in 2004 to 25 in 2005. Because this study is the first of its kind to report trends in health information exchange, we believe that the findings will offer significant insights to policy-makers. Health information exchange is the subject of several high-profile bills currently circulating in Congress, and it is a major issue for the Bush administration.

Our research and field experts report a dramatic, nationwide increase in interest in and activity related to health information exchange. Our survey’s results represent data from more than 100 efforts representing 45 states and the District of Columbia.

Ninety-nine percent of survey respondents cited “provider inefficiencies due to lack of data to support patient care” as a significant or moderate reason for building their efforts. And 59 percent of respondents with exchange programs in advanced stages reported that their privacy policies exceed requirements in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. The survey also provides information about exchange systems’ organization, governance, functions, services and technical infrastructure.

Although the findings show progress, challenges persist. So the eHealth Initiative and its foundation are taking a number of actions that will accelerate the mobility of information at the national, state and local levels.

We will be working to educate policy-makers, including those in Congress and Bush administration, of the importance of continuing work on technical standards and information-sharing policies through public/private partnerships. We will also highlight the importance of the federal government’s role in providing funding and innovative financing vehicles for initiatives in financial need.

Perhaps most importantly, we will work with leadership to contribute to the development of models for sustainability that reward organizations that use health information technology and exchange health information to improve health care.

The completion of this report is an important step in moving the IT agenda forward.

The eHealth Initiative will continue to gather national experts, diverse stakeholders and system developers to construct common principles, policies and standards. They can help navigate the organizational, legal, financial and technical complexities of health information exchange.

During the coming months, the foundation will release more guides and tools to support the health information technology field. We will publish insights gained from this survey, lessons learned from multistakeholder health information exchange initiatives funded by the foundation in cooperation with the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Office for the Advancement of Telehealth, and our ongoing research and working group activities.

Marchibroda is the chief executive officer of the eHealth Initiative Foundation.

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