While we have made progress through new technology and federal rules toward making a national health information exchange system a reality, just about everyone who works in this space knows we have “miles to go before we sleep”.   There are indeed local HIE’s that are quite successful, but few major operational state HIE’s and not a true national HIE system the likes of which we wished for when this work started.  Now Niam Yaraghi writes in an article published by the Brookings Institution that maybe the Covid-19 epidemic will show us how important this really is and give impetus to the will to make it a reality[1].  

Part of what we are learning from the shortcomings of our ability to exchange information is that this is not just about health data alone and that more complete information exchanges are needed to inform decision-making about isolation as well as treatment during the Covid-19 crisis.  If there were in place the kind of national health information exchange that also included things like travel information and social-determinants or related demographic data, we might be able to make decisions faster and better, or spot trends in population groups that need attention.   

Yarashi argues that: 

“A nationwide health information exchange could prove to be vital for early identification and even prediction of the centers of the epidemics. Such a system could enable the government to quarantine smaller areas before the virus spreads, or to efficiently allocate rare medical resources such as N-95 masks or test kits to providers in areas that are most likely to be at the center of the epidemic. Despite its benefits, the U.S. is still very far from having such an information network.” 

As a nation, we should pay attention to the gaps in the availability of the information needed to make decisions at every level of wellness, and the need to integrate health, human services and other data in such an exchange capability.  This epidemic should enlighten us about what we have yet to do and inspire us to make it so.


Paul Wormeli
Board of Directors
Stewards of Change Institute  


[1] https://www.brookings.edu/blog/techtank/2020/03/13/the-u-s-lacks-health-information-technologies-to-stop-covid-19-epidemic/

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