Significant Increases in Health Information Exchanges Attributed to EHR Incentive Programs

Use of electronic health records (EHRs) and health information organizations (HIOs) to enable health information exchange (HIE) between hospitals and other providers increased significantly between 2008 and 2012, according to new research from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC). In 2012, nearly six in 10 hospitals actively exchanged electronic health information with providers and hospitals outside their organization, regardless of provider type, organizational affiliation, or type of clinical information.

EHRs allow health care providers to record patient information electronically instead of using paper records. HIEs help improve care coordination for patients by providing more timely and complete sharing of clinical information among providers and hospitals. The highest rates of hospital exchange activity were among hospitals with basic EHR systems that also participated in regional HIOs, which suggests that the two tools work well together to enhance data exchange. Although many hospitals exchange laboratory results and radiology reports, only one-third of hospitals exchanged clinical care summaries or medication lists with outside providers, leaving that area to be further developed in upcoming years.

Much of the growth is attributed to the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs, which encourage early adoption of EHR through incentive payments, measured by “meaningful use” requirements. Stage 2 Meaningful Use, which eligible providers must achieve beginning in fiscal year 2014 to receive incentive payments, requires hospitals to exchange with outside organizations using different EHR systems and to share summary of care records during transitions of care.

The full ONC report was published in Health Affairs. To see state-level estimates for several of the measures included in the study, visit the ONC’s Health IT Adoption and Use dashboard.