RAND: Benefits of Health Information Exchanges Rarely Studied

Health researchers have studied less than a dozen health information exchanges (HIEs) despite the nearly $600 million in federal investments made to establish and sustain roughly 100 HIEs over the past five years, according to a RAND Corp. study.

Researchers at RAND found that just seven to 12 HIEs have been evaluated for evidence that their work has any effect on the quality, cost or efficiency of health-care delivery. However, there are more than 100 organizations that facilitate the exchange of health information between health-care organizations, many of which were established using federal funding from the 2009 Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, the RAND study said.

“Our review found that, despite this enormous investment, the use of health information exchanges has only been studied in a few emergency departments,” Robert Rudin, lead author of the study and an associate policy researcher at RAND, said in a release. “In those studies, it seems to have some beneficial effect. Outside of that, there just aren't enough studies to indicate whether or not they are having the beneficial effects intended.” 

The study, titled “Usage and Effect of Health Information Exchange,” was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Researchers said more information is needed to understand the benefits of HIEs and the barriers to more robust HIE use by health-care organizations. 

“Until better evidence is available, all HIEs should be viewed as experiments and evaluated as such,” the study said. 

Despite the lack of HIE research, the RAND study found there is “reasonably consistent evidence” that health-care organizations can use HIEs to reduce the use of emergency departments.


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