HealthlinkNY, a regional HIE (health information exchange), based in Binghamton, and HealtheConnections, an HIE in Syracuse, are merging together into HealtheConnections, forming a health improvement organization that spans 26 counties of the central New York, Southern Tier and Hudson Valley regions.
The announcement, which came on Jan. 31 from Rob Hack, president and CEO of HealtheConnections, and Staci Romeo, executive director of HealthlinkNY, follows a strategic partnership announced in September 2018, and, according to Romeo, the teams quickly agreed that a merger would be the best choice to accelerate their goal of delivering improved resources to their regions. Officials contend that the merger will create the largest health improvement organization in New York State.
“We’re excited to bring together 4,100 participating providers in 1,800 locations in the Central and Southern Tier regions, with 4,600 participating providers and 1,000 locations in the Upper and Lower Hudson Valley—and this merger will increase usage and adoption,” Romeo said in a statement to today.
The merger comes just a few months after a fascinating public spat took place between HealthlinkNY and Hixny, an HIE based in Albany. When Hixny said in September that it would be expanding its services by adding nine counties to its territory, HealthlinkNY attested that the move would create “confusion and uncertainty” in the marketplace.
Indeed, the nine counties that Hixny expanded into were already covered by HealthlinkNY’s network, which covers a 13-county service area spanning the Hudson Valley, Catskills, and the Southern Tier of New York (the Southern Tier encompasses counties of New York west of the Catskill Mountains along the northern border of Pennsylvania).
What makes today’s merger even more interesting is that it was also in September when HealthlinkNY entered into strategic partnership discussions with HealtheConnections, the Syracuse-based HIE that serves central New York. And Romeo has asserted that because HealthlinkNY was discussing a partnership with HealtheConnections, and not Hixny, that led Hixny CEO Mark McKinney to make a claim that this area, the Hudson Valley and Southern Tier region, has "historically lagged in connecting providers to one another and collecting patient consent.”
Hixny’s claims “sound like a case of sour grapes after being passed over during our search for a strategic partner,” Romeo said at the time in an interview. He added that that all 35 hospitals in the Hudson Valley and Catskill regions are HealthlinkNY participants. In those nine counties, Hixny has 21 sites and no hospitals, Romeo said. “HealthlinkNY had recently advised Hixny that they did not make the cut,” he stated at the time.
Across the healthcare landscape, as competition increases, HIE mergers seem to as well. In the above-referenced article, Julia Adler-Milstein, Ph.D., of the University of California San Francisco, who has done extensive research on HIEs, noted that she was part of a research project that examined health IT adoption, including the advancement of community HIEs. As part of that study, the researchers surveyed HIE leaders about barriers to development, and 84 percent of respondents cited competition among HIEs as a barrier to their development.
Now, the partnership between HealthlinkNY and HealtheConnections is official. Said Romeo today, “Our goal for a strategic partnership was to deliver enhanced services and combined synergies that would benefit our stakeholders.” He added, “We partnered with HealtheConnections because they have a proven record of success, and their quality of services and processes directly align with our mission. We’re thinking progressively, and as a combined entity, there will be operational efficiencies and increased value for our participants, stakeholders and partners as a single trusted resource.”
According to officials, HealtheConnections and HealthlinkNY are proceeding with operational and legal integrations that will provide health information exchange, population health improvement and value-based care solutions to their expansive service area. Hack will remain as president and CEO of HealtheConnections, and Romeo will serve as the vice president of strategic community engagement services for the combined entity.
HealtheConnections and HealthlinkNY are accredited entities operating and connecting their regional HIEs with others in New York State that together form the Statewide Health Information Network of New York (SHIN-NY). The merger is fully supported by the New York State Department of Health and aligns with the strategic goals of efficiency and affordability outlined in the SHIN-NY roadmap, officials noted.
Romeo also stated that the two organizations are the only New York State HIEs that support the Department of Health’s Population Health Improvement agenda through regional collaborative efforts, “which will further strengthen through the merger.”