Although there are definite challenges to forming health information exchanges in rural areas—a lack of broadband access being chief among them—one advantage that rural stakeholders may have over their urban counterparts is a greater willingness to collaborate.
According to a report from the National eHealth Collaborative, "HIEs serving rural markets seem to have a natural advantage over urban HIEs in their ability to attract otherwise competing providers to participate in health information exchange."
The report also finds that rural communities' lack of health IT infrastructure is actually the reason that when rural HIEs do get up and running, they share information efficiently and are more likely to attract members based on the exchanges' real business value.
The report, "Secrets of HIE Success Revealed: Lessons From the Leaders," profiles 12 mature and fully operational HIEs across the country, including ones in rural areas, to identify critical success factors and challenges.
According to Kate Berry, CEO of the National eHealth Collaborative, participating organizations are not only driven by a desire to improve healthcare, but also by the fact that HIEs make sense financially.
"One thing that came through loud and clear with these folks is while they have a strong mission…they also have very serious business acumen and business discipline that guides the decisions they make," Berry said in an interview. "As they develop the services, they're focused on: 'where's the value?' and 'who's going to pay?' There has to be a business case."