Inland Northwest Health Services (INHS) was established by two competing hospital systems in 1994 as a separate non-profit organization that would provide shared services to support the hospitals in and around Spokane, Washington. Initially focused on air medical transport and inpatient rehabilitation services, in 1996 INHS was tasked with implementing a common hospital information system in facilities belonging to the two parent hospital systems. The end result was local and regional hospitals utilizing common data and technology standards, incorporating a single master patient index and supported by a centralized information technology staff. This common information system provided a critical foundation for an unprecedented regional transformation.
Between 1998 and 2008, 32 more hospitals joined the INHS network. The common hospital information system has been implemented in facilities ranging from 25-bed critical access hospitals in rural communities to a 623-bed Level 2 trauma hospital in Spokane. While the majority of hospitals are in eastern Washington and northern Idaho, hospitals in western Washington and southern Idaho have also joined the network, with the most recent addition of four large hospitals in southern California - the first outside the region to adopt the INHS model. INHS now has 34 hospitals and health facilities on the network.
The INHS network has seen phenomenal growth because hospitals have come to recognize the benefits of a common, integrated information system operated by a shared services organization. These benefits include predictable implementation, effective use of resources, efficient internal operations and improved ability to care for patients. Participating in the INHS network has also enabled hospitals to implement new technology, including patient safety and quality improvement initiatives, which they would have difficulty implementing on their own. Hospital administrators have been willing to make the commitment to join the INHS network because of the repeat successes they have observed at other facilities and because of the confidence they have in the INHS executive team and staff. The growing regional collaboration benefits not only the hospitals that participate, but also patients and the entire health care system.
The INHS model is completely sustainable, as all participating hospitals pay for the services they receive. Because the services are being provided by a shared services organization is able to leverage resources and obtain discount pricing on purchases of hardware and software, the cost to participating hospitals is considerably less than they would pay if they tried to accomplish the same achievements on their own.
The model is also completely replicable. The key to success is standardization of technology and utilization of shared services, and can be accomplished by any group of hospitals in the country. The model is particularly effective for rural hospitals, which generally do not have sufficient resources to implement advanced information technology. However, as INHS has demonstrated, technology standardization and shared services are beneficial to both urban and rural hospitals. These two strategies can significantly improve the operation of hospitals in a region, resulting in better financial health for the hospital and better health care services for the patient.