What is a Health Information Exchange (HIE)?

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Many healthcare professionals who are less technical may hear the term health information exchange, but not be clear on what they are exactly. Technology education for nurses has always been several lacking, unfortunately. It’s one of the reasons I wrote The Nerdy Nurse’s Guide to Technology. In this article, we’ll answer the question “what is a health information exchange?”

Health Information Exchange Definition

A Health Information Exchange (also known as HIE). The portion of the rap where he keeps talking about interoperability is what is vital here. Basically, most hospital computer systems are written on proprietary code that is specific to the electronic medical record (EMR) vendor. And until now there have not been very compelling reasons for the vendors to make patient information be able to be easily transferred to other systems. That is a problem if you happen to move or need to see a specialist outside of the health system where your records are. In a world were nearly everything is electronic, and open source is everywhere, healthcare records have been lagging behind.

That is what meaningful use will eventually fix. Instead of having to print out documents to transport your medical records, providers will be able to easily request your entire health history with just a few clicks. It seems like we should have been doing this for years already, but we haven’t been.

It has taken the government giving these incentives to get healthcare organizations and vendor (especially vendors) on board with creating interoperability (through continuity of care documents and HL7). Why? Because before hospitals these incentives and the hospitals are their HIT departments began pressuring vendors to become compliant, the vendors would charge big fees to make custom inerrability tools on a case by case basis. So the EMR vendors stood to profit, and the patients and providers were left paying the bill.

It’s not often that I agree with government mandates, but meaningful use is one of those rare exceptions that was actually needed to get the job done. If there is one thing we need in this country to improve healthcare it’s continuity, and meaningful use can make that happen.

Bonus Meaningful Use Rap Video

If you work in healthcare it is pretty likely that you have heard the term “Meaningful Use.” While many find it to be much more annoying than beneficial, I  find that many people actually do not have any idea what it actually means for patients.

The “Meaning Yoose Rap” does a great job of giving a general idea of what meaningful use is, what it does for patients, and how providers can benefit from implementing.


If you’re a physician you’re probably already working towards the goals since there is a pretty nice cash incentive involved. But if you’re a staff nurse you may be annoyed by extra work in the form of additional items to key in an existing EMR or implementation of entirely new EMR. However, the monetary incentives meaningful use are really just a nice bonus. These incentives pale in comparison to the huge benefit we will see in the continuity of care of patients when the HIE are in place.

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Health Information Exchange: Navigating and Managing a Network of Health Information SystemsHealth Information Exchange: Navigating and Managing a Network of Health Information SystemsThe Health Information Exchange Formation Guide: The Authoritative Guide for Planning and Forming an HIE in Your State, Region or Community (HIMSS Book Series)The Health Information Exchange Formation Guide: The Authoritative Guide for Planning and Forming an HIE in Your State, Region or Community (HIMSS Book Series)Informatics for Health Professionals (Navigate 2 Advantage Access)Informatics for Health Professionals (Navigate 2 Advantage Access)

So now you know the answer to the question “what is a health information exchange.” You can share this knowledge with your coworkers and even patients!

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