InformationLinks, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) (2005–09), stimulated the participation of public health agencies in emerging health information exchanges, which were developed primarily to serve the needs of providers of individual medical care services.
Health information exchanges are electronic data networks that make it possible to share patient information and thus enhance the quality of health care and promote health both on an individual and a population-wide basis.
RWJF awarded 21 one-year grants from June 2005 through December 2006 to state and local health departments and public health institutes to help them secure a "seat at the table" in health information exchanges as they develop.
InformationLinks led to the development of systems to improve public health and health delivery, according to an independent evaluation by the National Opinion Research Center. It also led to the establishment of task forces and working groups that will allow public health agencies to leverage health information exchanges to advance their objectives. InformationLinks grantees and the Public Health Informatics Institute produced a guide to successful partnerships between public health entities and health information exchanges. The guide identified "five worthy aims" to pursue in order to facilitate improved individual and community health. The Public Health Informatics Institute was created by RWJF at the Task Force for Child Survival and Development in Decatur, Ga., the organization that coordinated the work of the projects in InformationLinks.
National Opinion Research Center evaluators interviewed 15 of the 21 public health agency grantees at the end of their project periods and found that a key benefit of InformationLinks, particularly among grantees that had limited prior involvement with health information exchanges, was the ability to convene diverse stakeholders and institutionalize collaborations between public health and various components of the health care sector, such as physician groups and leaders in state and local governments.