Building — But Not Overbuilding — Next Gen HIEs

Posted on July 2, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Today I’m delighted to bring you some thoughts from Micky Tripathi, founding president and CEO of the Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative.  In a write-up for the useful blog, Tripathi argues that the HIT world is in danger of seriously overbuilding the next generation of HIEs.

As he notes, a generation of private HIEs (known as CHINs at the time) failed or struggled in the early to mid-1990s. He also reminds us that the failures — such as the demise of Tennessee’s CareSpark and the Minnesota Health Information Exchange — are far from over. In his mind, this is mostly because these groups tried to create over-architected HIEs.

Now, we’re at the heart of the matter. What is an over-architected HIE?  I’ll let Tripathi speak:

Put simply, it’s one that tries to do too much for too many with not enough money and time. It tries to establish an all-encompassing infrastructure and service to meet multiple, heterogeneous current and future requirements of multiple, heterogeneous current and future customers. It tries to do all of this with a shoestring budget and staff. And worst of all, it focuses more on long-term potential “big-bang” value at the expense of short-term, realizable, incremental value. Or as one HIE organization’s promotional material put it, the value proposition is to be a “one-stop shop for Clinical and Administrative Information.”  (Editor’s note: They actually made that claim? Wow.)

What’s wrong with trying to build a Holy Grail of HIEs that solves everyone’s problems?  His analysis:

1.   HIEs can only develop so fast no matter how much money and people you throw at them, given that moving clinical documents around, searching and retrieving clinical info and getting everything into a big database requires a lot of manual labor, legal and technical judgement, cultural and clinical change.

2. While HIEs can only move so fast, business and technology can move at breathtaking speed. Building out an infrastructure which is supposed to work five years from now may turn out to be a massive waste of resources. As he points out, remember that the game-changing iPad is only two years old.

3. CIOs are, let us say, a little overwhelmed at the moment. Asking them to build out a huge infrastructure for the HIE doesn’t exactly make things better. “Better to proceed with achievable steps that deliver incremental value along the way,” he says.

Well, all I can say is that I agree with him completely. Incremental moves and technologies like the Direct Project seem infinitely smarter than a “Big Bang” approach. HIEs are going to be part of our future like it or not, for many reasons, so why not get it right a little bit at a time?