The Network, Arizona’s statewide health information exchange (HIE) is witnessing an unprecedented surge in growth, due to a combination of incentives and influences. The total number of participating organizations in The Network reached 132 this week, more than tripling the number of Network participants in a year. Growth has come from several key market sectors, including hospitals and community providers, especially community behavioral health providers.
While a number of hospitals and hospital systems have been Network participants for several years, more recent influences and incentives have led to a recent surge in hospital participation. Today Network hospital participants account for about 90 percent of all inpatient and emergency room discharges statewide. Many of these hospitals are participating in accountable care organizations (ACOs) and other arrangements that require close coordination among hospitals, community providers and other health care organizations. In March 2016 the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) announced a Value Based Payment Rule (VBP Rule) that provides an incentive to hospitals to join and participate in a qualified health information exchange organization. This rule aims to encourage the secure sharing of patient information among providers across the state to improve care coordination and reduce costs.
In addition to joining, The VBP Rule also requires hospitals to connect and send data to a qualified health information exchange organization by June 1, 2016. Arizona Health-e Connection (AzHeC) sent letters to Arizona hospitals demonstrating how The Network meets the AHCCCS definition of a qualified health information exchange organization, with a connection deadline in order to be able to send data by June 1, 2016. Hospitals and hospital systems that have joined The Network in 2016 include Abrazo Community Health Network, Dignity Health, HonorHealth, IASIS Healthcare, LLC, La Paz Regional Hospital, Phoenix Children’s Hospital and Yavapai Regional Medical Center.
Another factor that has spurred rapid Network growth has been the decision by the AzHeC Board in February to adopt an integrated physical and behavioral health strategy. This move, aimed at improving care coordination across the health care continuum, allows information from both physical and behavioral health providers to be securely shared by authorized Network participants. It also extended the elimination of Network provider fees for community providers to community behavioral health providers. The result has been a surge in participation by behavioral health providers, with 29 behavioral health providers joining The Network to date in 2016.
Rapid Network growth has also required growth in The Network staff to bring new participants onboard. AzHeC has welcomed 10 new staff members in 2016, with six new employees joining in the past month. The number of active Network projects has doubled in 2016, and new staff is being added to accommodate the new growth, according to Jaime Estrada, Director of Technical Operations.