A health information exchange, sometimes abbreviated as HIE, is the process of sharing electronic healthcare information across various medical and governmental organizations. Health information exchanges are predicated on the emergence of electronic health records (EHR), which various countries have adopted as a more efficient and—if regulated well—safe way of processing and moving patient information. Research organizations and government entities also can use health information exchanges to gain insight into health trends within a population. Health information exchanges can be set up independently or on a regional level. A regional health information exchange is often called a Regional Health Information Organization (RHIO).
In the U.S., the use of health information exchange systems was heavily promoted by the government with the passage of the American Recovery and Investment Act of 2009. In particular, The American and Recovery Investment Act included the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH), which prompted organizations to adopt EHRs and health information exchanges using positive and negative reinforcements. Other nations have also passed legislation prompting the widespread adoption of EHRs, including England, Canada, and Australia.
In general, electronic health information exchange is viewed as a healthy and necessary step for medical communities worldwide. Today's technology allows volumes of medical data to be processed and shared far faster and more efficiently than outdated paper-based systems. The catch, however, is that as private health information becomes increasingly easy to tap into, stringent regulations must be enforced to ensure private data is used only toward the benefit of patients seeking treatment.
As medical organizations are encouraged more and more to use health information exchanges, countries have begun passing legislation to ensure they're equally encouraged to share private health information in a wise fashion. In the U.S., for example, an individual's private information can only be shared with that individual’s consent. It also can only be shared for certain purposes and situations. For example, a patient might authorize an old clinic to share health records with a new clinic. Such permission would allow the new healthcare provider to quickly begin treating the patient with a full knowledge of that individual's health history and needs.
In the U.S., the government has worked to implement RHIOs that operate on the state, local and even rural levels. This is an attempt to build the most reliable and wide-reaching health information exchange network possible. RHIOs help build up health information networks as well as facilitate the most legal and efficient use of those networks.