Usage of and Attitudes Toward Health Information Exchange Before and After System Implementation in a VA Medical Center

Fed Pract. 2019 July;36(7):322-326

Coinciding with the HIE system implementation and prior to having access to it, VAPIHCS medical and managed care staff were invited to complete an online needs assessment tool. Voluntary trainings on the system were offered at various times on multiple days and lasted approximately 1 hour. Six months after the HIE system was implemented, a postassessment tool reevaluated HIE-related access.

VHA Setting and HIE System

VAPIHCS serves about 55,000 unique patients across a 2.6 million square-mile catchment area (Hawaii and Pacific Island territories). Facilities include a medium-sized, urban VA medical center and 7 suburban or rural/remote primary care outpatient clinics.

VAPIHCS contracted with Hawaii Health Information Exchange (HHIE), a nonprofit organization that was designated by the state of Hawaii to develop a seamless, secure HIE system. According to HHIE, 83% of the 23 hospitals in the state and 55% of Hawaii’s 2,927 active practicing physicians have adopted the HIE system (F. Chan, personal communication, December 12, 2018). HHIE’s data sources provide real-time access to a database of 20 million health records. Records include, among other records, data such as patients’ reasons for referral, encounter diagnoses, medications, immunizations, and discharge instructions from many (but not all) HCPs in Hawaii.

HHIE reports that it has the capacity to interface with all electronic health records systems currently in use in the community (F. Chan, personal communication, December 12, 2018). Although the HIE system can provide directed exchange (ie, sending and receiving secure information electronically between HCPs), the HIE system implemented in the VAPIHCS was limited to query-retrieve (ie, practitioner-initiated requests for information from other community HCPs). Specifically, to access patient records, practitioners log in to the HIE portal and enter a patient’s name in a search window. The system then generates a consolidated virtual chart with data collected from all HIE data-sharing participants. To share records, community HCPs either build or enable a profile in an integrated health care enterprise electronic communication interface into their data. However, VHA records were not made available to community HCPs at this initial stage.

Measures and Statistical Analysis

A template of quality improvement-related questions was adapted for this project with input from subject matter experts. Questions were then modified further based on interviews with 5 clinical and managed care staff members. The final online tool consisted of up to 20 multiple choice items and 2 open-ended questions delivered online. A 22-item evaluation tool was administered 6 months after system implementation. Frequencies were obtained for descriptive items, and group responses were compared across time.


Thirty-nine staff (32 medical and 7 managed care staff) completed the needs assessment, and 20 staff (16 medical and 4 managed care staff) completed the postimplementation evaluation.

Preimplementation, 32.4% of respondents indicated that they could access community-based health records sometimes. Postimplementation, most respondents indicated they could access the records most of the time (Figure 1).

Preimplementation, staff most frequently indicated they were very dissatisfied with the current level of access to community records. Postimplementation, more staff were somewhat satisfied or very satisfied (Figure 2). Postimplementation, 48% of staff most often reported using the HIE system either several times a month or 2 to 4 times a week, 19% used the system daily, 19% used 1 to 2 times, and 14% never used the system. Most staff (67%) reported that the system improved access to records somewhat and supported continuing the contract with the HIE system. Conversely, 18% of respondents said that their access did not improve enough for the system to be of use to them.

Preimplementation, staff most frequently indicated that they did not have time (28.6%) or sufficient staff (25.7%) to request records (Table 2). Postimplementation, staff most frequently (33.3%) indicated that they had no problems accessing the HIE system, but 6.7% reported having time or interface/software difficulties.

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