2 NY RHIOs merge in latest step toward statewide HIE

With many of the country's providers using electronic health records on a fairly regular basis, the industry has begun to turn its attention toward not just individual EHR use, but rather how data can operate over a larger network. Health information exchanges are nothing new – pilot programs in states like Massachusetts and California have proven the format's viability – but the true test for HIEs will come on the state and perhaps even national level.

Two regional health information organizations in New York have taken a critical step toward the latter end, as Southern Tier Healthlink and Taconic Health Information Network and Community have merged to create HealthlinkNY, a new and larger RHIO that will serve 11 counties and close to a million patients. Though smoothing out organizational differences between the two entities will be difficult, some observers are already looking to the future and speculating about where HealthlinkNY can take New York's HIEs in the future.

Sharing is caring
Before the merger, STHL and THINC both operated in southern New York, with several thousand physicians and hundreds of providers under their combined purview. According to a press release from the newly minted HealthlinkNY, the new RHIO is one of the largest in the state.

"This merger will harness our individual strengths and combine them to transform and improve healthcare from the Southern Tier through the Hudson Valley," Christina Galanis, executive director of STHL, said in a statement. "We are excited to consolidate our efforts and services with THINC to expand our technical and analytical expertise in both regions, support emerging population health reform, and operate more efficiently."

Galanis explained that the cumulative technological capabilities of the two entities will allow authorized medical professionals to update EHR databases in real time. One of the major advantages of larger HIEs is an increase in the fluidity of information transmission between remote locations. If HealthlinkNY can deliver on its promise of real-time EHR access, there may be hope for an even larger organization and a more deliberate concentration of EHR systems in the future.

"New Yorkers will see their healthcare improve as a direct result of this important union between THINC and STHL," Susan Stuard, executive director of THINC, said in a statement. "By joining forces, we will be able broaden our current services for patients and doctors, and expand our policy work."

One small step
While HealthlinkNY may be the most recent form of progress with top-level HIEs, it is far from the first. In fact, California Healthline explained that the Statewide Health Information Network for New York has been connecting remote RHIOs in the state for years.

However, SHIN-NY does not qualify as an HIE in the truest sense – the publicly run SHIN-NY serves more as an existing avenue private HIEs can take to connect with other RHIOs. SHIN-NY does not store any EHR data itself. However, HealthlinkNY is not expected to be the only RHIO of its size to emerge in the coming years, which changes the role of SHIN-NY from a communication hub for thousands of smaller organizations to a fluid data highway larger, technologically capable RHIOs can use to share EHR information.

SHIN-NY recognizes any group like HealthlinkNY as a Qualified Health IT Entity, which is entitled to Medicare data to improve clinical performance. Intertwining private health organizations with public data is a further step toward high-level HIEs that navigate the divide between privately run providers and the staggering logistical issues that warrant the entrance of municipal infrastructure into the field.

HealthlinkNY still has a great distance to go before it can claim to have achieved its goal of providing widespread EHR access to all of its constituents, but the newly minted QE is off to a promising start.