A theoretical outline of how regional health information organizations, or RHIOs, will connect to form an interoperable, national health information network is the subject of "Exchanging Health Information: Local Distribution, National Coordination," published in the current issue of the policy journal Health Affairs.
But in the real world, the linking of RHIOs is already well under way.
Lead authors of the essay are RHIO veterans John Halamka, M.D., chief information officer of CareGroup Healthcare System and chairman of the Waltham, Mass.-based New England Health Electronic Data Interchange Network, a 7-year-old RHIO, and J. Marc Overhage, M.D., president and chief executive officer of the year-old Indiana Health Information Exchange in Indianapolis, an outgrowth of much older healthcare data exchange efforts by the Regenstrief Institute.
Key to making interconnectivity between RHIOs work, the authors argue, is a common framework being developed by a coalition of public and private healthcare entities called Connecting for Health.
The framework project is being coordinated by the Markle Foundation with funding assistance from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The authors also call for the formation of a standards and policy organization to prioritize, develop and enforce policy, business, privacy and security rules between the RHIOs. The policy body could be a government agency, a public-private collaboration or a private organization, the authors said.
Overhage said in a phone interview that he believes the American Health Information Community, a group of 17 private-sector and government healthcare leaders headed by HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt created in June, is a step in that direction.