Feeding information from electronic health records to health information exchanges ought to be easy, but so far it's been plagued by the same kinds of costs and technological obstacles as any other effort to interface one piece of HIT to another.

"There are lots of HIE standards out there, but they're not being consistently implemented," says Anuj Desai, director of business development for the New York eHealth Collaborative, which oversees HIT for New York State. "Some vendors are trying to charge physicians $150,000 to get their EHRs connected to a health information exchange."

To remedy that situation and make the connections straightforward, New York and seven other states are collaborating with HIE and EHR software vendors to define "plug and play" interoperability between the two types of systems, and significantly reduce the barriers to HIE adoption.

Desai and David Minch, HIPAA/HIE project manager for John Muir Health in California, will describe the activities of the EHR/HIE Interoperability Workgroup during a session at HIMSS12 in Las Vegas, and explain to attendees how they can participate in, and reap the benefits of, the group's work.

Its secret is strength in numbers, Desai says. "Most HIE organizations have a staff of five and a budget of $1 million to $3 million, so they don't have a lot of leverage with the vendor community." The workgroup's goal is to create specifications that all its members can require their vendors to comply with. For example, New York's Regional Extension Centers are working with more than 10,000 physician practices, and they plan to add the EHR/HIE connection specification to the requirements vendors must fulfill in order to be on their "preferred vendor" list.

The workgroup already includes eight major EHR vendors and seven HIE vendors working with eight state organizations, and Desai expects it to grow further in all categories. Participating vendors will demonstrate the workgroup's specs, and display its logo, at the HIMSS Interoperability Showcase on the exhibit floor. The group's website is at interopwg.org.

The HIMSS session, Connecting EHRs to HIEs, is scheduled on Feb. 21 at 12:15 p.m.

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