By Bruce W. Johnson, M.S. and Steve Schafer, M.Div.

  In today's dynamic healthcare environment the need for cost containment combined with the trend toward integrated delivery systems is driving the development of provider networks and strategic alliances. A critical component of these organizational networks is the sharing and exchange of information. Thus, the decade of the 90's has seen the development of networks of information systems that link hospitals, private practices, laboratories, pharmacies, payers, banks, vendors and regulators.

The technological infrastructure for these networks is the community health information network (CHIN). A CHIN can be defined as a set of inter-related computers, applications software, policies, procedures and standards typically operating over a wide area network that is designed to facilitate the exchange of data among different healthcare related organizations and departments through the integration of their individual computer systems (Johnson 1995).

As described by Weaver and Kralovec (1994) "a CHIN provides the information systems and technological infrastructure for the capturing, processing, storage, movement and reporting of clinical, financial, administrative and operational data throughout the network."

The community health information network is more than just a physical network of computer systems linked to one another. It is the electronic backbone that serves to integrate related functions performed by different departments, branches and organizations. It can be used for an endless variety of applications involving the coordination of clinical services and business functions. It can be used as a conduit to exchange clinical data for tracking patients and transferring chart information.

It is also particularly well suited for conducting business transactions such as claims submission and administration, and submitting statistical and financial reports to regulators and funding sources. Since a significant amount of the data required for fiscal and clinical research are transmitted over the CHIN, it is also an excellent vehicle to collect data for the purpose of research, evaluation and planning.

Some of the organizations that can benefit from a CHIN include:

  • Hospitals
  • Provide practices
  • HMOs
  • Employers
  • TPAs
  • MCOs
  • Provider networks (HPO, IPA, IPO,etc.)
  • Public sector departments, boards and agencies

Some of the standards that need to be developed include:

  • Medical records content, format, and procedures
  • Hardware
  • Operating systems
  • Applications software
  • Data content and format
  • Procedures and protocols for the exchange of data

About The Authors:

Bruce Johnson, M.S., PMP, is President of Johnson Consulting Services, Inc., an information management consulting firm that specializes in working with social service, healthcare, and government organizations. He can be reached at (800) 988-0934, or by e-mail at Mr. Schafer is a clinical records and operations management consultant. He specializes in working with managed care, behvavioral healthcare and child welfare organizations. He can be reached at (800) 661-2435, or by e-mail at