Buckle your seat belt if you're an IT professional in the healthcare industry: Things are about to rock.
Health information exchange (HIE) technology, meaning tech geared to streamlining the sharing of digitized medical information, including electronic medical records, is gaining the momentum of a freight train in the US.
In a report released this week, the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) recommends the "nationwide adoption of a universal exchange language for healthcare information and a digital infrastructure for locating patient records while strictly ensuring patient privacy."
PCAST is calling for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to produce guidelines for this language and try to "spur adoption" of it as part of a "transition from traditional electronic health records to the use of healthcare data tagged with privacy and security specifications."
The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT also last week unveiled about $16 million in funding for HIE, available to states (at the level of about $1 million per award) for a range of HIE uses. According to the agency, these uses include:
- Achieving health goals through health information exchange
- Improving long-term and post-acute care transitions
- Giving patients access to their own health information
- Developing tools and approaches to search for and share granular patient data (such as specific lab results for a given time period)
- Fostering strategies for population-level analysis
This week also saw private-sector news in the HIE arena: US insurance giant Aetna plans to acquire Medicity, a Salt Lake City firm offering networks to link "physician practices, standalone hospitals, large health systems and local, regional, and statewide HIEs." The value of the deal is $500 million.
A look behind the headlines shows why HIE is so hot: According to news reports, Medicity connects 760 hospitals and more than 125,000 doctors and 250,000 end users; and Medicity has a multiyear contract with Laboratory Corp. of America Holdings, which extends its healthcare networking reach even further.
Analysts say this latest deal is evidence of ongoing consolidation in this growing field. This past August, healthcare IT firm Ingenix (a subsidiary of United Health Group) bought HIE provider Axolotl in what was viewed as a move toward streamlining healthcare information delivery in the United States.
Now, the ante is upped: "The open Medicity platform will take HIE to the next level by stimulating development of health care IT applications and improving care collaboration through connectivity-enabled applications," stated Reed Welch, a managing director in the Health Care Investment Banking Group at Raymond James Financial Inc. (NYSE: RJF), in a statement.
All this activity isn't just about disseminating healthcare information. As John Moore of healthcare IT analyst firm Chilmark Research puts it in a blog this week, the US healthcare IT market is unfolding in response to the need for new payment models, as reform legislation pushes healthcare constituents toward a "shared risk payment model," which calls for HIE as a vital underlying element.
Moore also predicts that analytics will play a growing role in healthcare IT; that administrative and clinical data will be combined as market momentum continues; and that consolidation in the HIE market will keep going: "In 12-18 months time there will likely not be an independent HIE vendor left in the market," he states.
In other words: Fasten those belts!
— Mary Jander , ThinkerNet Editor, Internet Evolution