Regional health information organizations (RHIOs) have been the talk of the healthcare industry for a few years now, with tremendous attention being directed towards the concept and a great deal of speculation on the potential concrete benefits. Among those most often cited are the faster sharing of patient data among physicians at the point of care; the use of clinical databases for public health analysis and biosurveillance; and as building-blocks for the proposed National Health Information Network (NHIN).
But while interest in RHIOs remains high nationwide, word continues to leak out about RHIOs that are failing, while many that were birthed in optimism are struggling to move into more advanced stages of development.
The biggest culprits cited? Experts say there are three—lack of a viable business model; lack of a workable governance model; and fundamentally, lack of a compelling purpose for being. Meanwhile, those RHIOs that are moving towards sustained success appear to have targeted and limited purposes; are functioning in geographic areas where RHIOs make sense (most industry experts say that means either a rural region with sparse provider coverage, or a discrete metropolitan area or sub-state region); have achieved sound business and operating models; and have attained the sustained buy-in and commitment of all concerned stakeholders.
The following stories present an overview of where RHIOs stand; a look at several successful RHIOs in operation; a scan of the physician market; and an overview of policy issues influencing RHIO development.—M.H.