Widespread HIE use has promise to reduce redundant medical services
A new study by Saeede Eftekhari et al titled ‘Do Health Information Exchanges (HIE) Deter Repetition of Medical Services?’ published in SSRN  found that health information exchange reduced the frequency of therapeutic medical procedures in physician offices. The authors distinguish therapeutic procedures from diagnostic procedures, the latter of which the authors did not find to be impacted by HIE use.
The paper’s authors estimated $63 million in annual savings could potentially be realized, by Medicare alone, if HIE were to be used for every therapeutic procedure performed at a physician's office. Long story short, this could mean that there is a potential return on investment in HIE infrastructure.
HIE has been problematic for a number of reasons, including a deeply embedded historical culture of healthcare provider organizations not sharing data with each other. There are also difficulties with financing HIE, namely determining who is going to or who should pay - patients, doctors, payors, health systems, taxpayers?
Given the setting focused on in this study was physician offices, tapping into this value that HIE may unlock would require investing not only in HIE infrastructure between hospitals, but also physician offices. But again the question is who would pay for this?
It will be interesting to see if other studies in the future are able to corroborate the findings in the Eftekhari et al study. If the observed findings are indeed reproducible, perhaps Medicare should fund HIE given it could mean an annual saving of $63 million of taxpayer dollars. So what next? Perhaps the authors will pursue a well designed prospective study looking at this issue; there’s no doubt...it would be a very meaningful addition to the literature.