HIE and No, It's Not Health Information Exchange

This industry often refers to an "Ecosystem" surrounding interoperability efforts, but no formal definition has existed to date.“The definition of definition is ‘a statement expressing the essential nature of something”... But why is a definition so important? Because definitions enable us to have a common understanding of a word or subject; they allow us to all be on the same page when discussing or reading about an issue,” Glenn Whitfield, director, Humana.

As Whitfield states, the critical role for a definition is to allow us all to be ‘on the same page,’ and being on the same page is something desperately needed when it comes to discussing interoperability in healthcare. Over the past few months, subject matter experts from the HIMSS Interoperability & HIE Committee have spent significant time working to help boil down the entirety of the Health Interoperability Ecosystem into just a few sentences.

Capturing the complex healthcare landscape in a definition

This process was challenging considering the multiplicity of standards, needs and use cases that exist, and the many actors within the healthcare system – each moving in multiple directions simultaneously to meet the needs of their patients. All of these stakeholders and elements can be overwhelming to large sophisticated organizations, much less the individual provider with a small family practice. Each must deal with a patient population that visits multiple organizations and providers, placing them at risk for not being fully informed regarding an individual’s full health information.

Leveraging the definition in the 'real-world'

This definition attempts to draw in all the interested parties to provide a framework that can better explain the various components that must be considered when understanding what makes a system interoperable. It may help a small-practice provider start a discussion with the large IDN (Integrated Delivery Network) about the critical nature of initiating exchange. It may be used by care team members to better understand the partnership needed for those at risk patients that would benefit most from the sharing of health information. As professionals in the field have learned, it is difficult to fully capture what this Ecosystem means to each actor involved. However, HIMSS hopes that by formally addressing what this Ecosystem encompasses, more will be aware of how they fit within efforts to create a more interoperable healthcare system working toward better care.

View the new definition here .

To learn more about the Interoperability & HIE Committee and other Interoperability & HIE resources and activities, we invite you to check out our community and toolkits.


Health IT; HIE; interoperability; health care; patient care