The recent federal announcement of its $547 million grant release to facilitate Health Information Exchanges (HIEs) at the state level seems like new life is being given to the data exchange landscape.

Fifty states and qualified State Designated Entities (SDEs) will be eligible to receive the funding, and if carefully nurtured, they will continue to thrive.

The data exchange activities of the Office of National Coordinator (ONC) have been described as “a thousand flowers blooming.” While states and SDEs will have different priorities and approaches for spending their “seed money,” the results from each one should blossom and create a lasting impression for consumers and healthcare providers.

As SDEs aggressively plan and launch activities, consideration of several points will help them reap benefits well into the future:

  • Engaging and aligning physicians with the value of data exchange: Business processes may need to change and the value of sharing information must be readily apparent. The incentives for adopting meaningful use of technology may help address this challenge. The new care-delivery models initially funded in the health care reform bill, including patient-centered medical homes, create incentives for information sharing.
  • Managing patient and provider identities: The accuracy of patient information is important, but the providers’ identities are too. While a national provider identifier exists, it does not specify who the provider is, where he or she practices, where results should be routed or where to direct queries. Understanding a provider’s relationship to the patient may also be vital as federal and state policies address privacy and consent management.
  • Financial growth must be incorporated into planning: While the federal government is providing full funding the first year and 90 percent in the second year, grant recipients will need a sustainable business model that is not dependent on government financing.
  • Hosting vs. standing-up software: In the upcoming months, SDEs will be tasked with defining the platform for infrastructure (i.e. VPN) and software delivery. Does the SDE have the wherewithal to manage and support infrastructure and software themselves, or will they look for a hosted subscription-based solution to reduce development costs and infrastructure investments?
  • Selecting a vendor with the requisite experience: Integration experience and knowledge, strong product development and adherence to standards are essential. If requirements aren’t met, delays will occur and funding requirements will increase down the road.

These steps will allow patients to enjoy the benefits of a flourishing system.

Lorraine Fernandes is vice president and healthcare industry ambassador for Initiate, an IBM company.