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Building the Illinois Health Information Exchange

The road to connecting practices across the state By Abel Kho, MD, MS

Illinois, and other states are creating electronic networks to facilitate the easy, secure transmission of health care information between providers. Efforts are underway in our state to develop a state health information exchange (HIE) to efficiently transport health information.

HIEs make it possible to share data electronically within a community, state or region. The ongoing project has a number of important long-term goals: 1) improve health care outcomes for all Americans; 2) promote widespread adoption and the Meaningful Use of electronic health records (EHR); and 3) provide a framework for the secure exchange of clinical data among providers nationwide. When using paper health records, the process of exchanging patient information can be time-consuming and prone to errors. With HIE, patients reap the benefits of knowing their providers have the latest test results, medications and allergies, and recommendations of other providers. A well-implemented HIE provides efficient access to health information, and thus can lead to more coordinated, more efficient, and safer health care.

While still in the initial phase, this secure statewide electronic network has promise for connecting practices across the state. Both the Illinois Office of Health Information Technology and the Illinois Health Information Exchange Authority teamed up to create the ILHIE.

ILHIE Direct

As a first step toward the statewide exchange, providers may sign up now for ILHIE Direct, a secure messaging system to exchange email messages that can contain patient data. ILHIE Direct is an encrypted HIPAA-compliant service that allows you to communicate with or without an EHR system.  The service is offered free-of-charge through June 2013, but you must sign up. All you need is an Internet connection and a web browser. For a more detailed description of ILHIE Direct, please check the May 2012 issue of Chicago Medicine magazine.

Help for Small Practices

Historically, most HIEs have focused on connecting larger hospital systems to other hospitals or large clinics. Yet many small practices operate independently. These small practices, which provide care for up to 70% of all patient encounters in the U.S., are vital participants in health information exchange, striving to meet patient needs in communities not readily served by larger health care networks.

Through a “White Space” grant, the Chicago Health IT Regional Extension Center (CHITREC) will help these smaller practices or federally qualified health centers connect to the state’s growing HIE infrastructure. As part of a team with Heartland Health Outreach and the Alliance of Community Health Services Grant, CHITREC received a grant of $495,120 for this very purpose. White spaces are underserved communities or areas in between larger health care delivery networks, usually not technology enabled.

In Chicago, small practices are particularly important because many of them serve communities designated as medically underserved by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. CHITREC will work directly with seven practices during the next year to help them connect to ILHIE. As new models of patient care emerge that focus on care coordination among multiple entities, it is critical that patients served by these white space entities have access to the HIE services needed to exchange relevant health information.

Connecting to ILHIE

If you’re interested in getting involved with the beginning stages of this project as an early adopter and tester, please visit ILHIE’s website for details at

Dr. Kho is an internist and co-executive director of the Chicago Health IT Regional Extension Center (

The Behavioral Health Integration Project

One good example of how the HIE could be used is the Behavioral Health Integration Project (BHIP), which promotes the exchange of information among behavioral health and medical care providers. Through BHIP, licensed substance abuse and mental health practitioners will be able to better coordinate patient care with primary care providers through a secure electronic health information exchange. CHITREC welcomes questions about Illinois HIE or other health IT needs. Visit us at, or email; or call 312-503-2986.

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