History of RHIN

The Refugee Health Information Network (RHIN) was a national collaborative partnership whose principal focus was to create and make available a database of quality multilingual/multicultural, public health resources to professionals providing care to resettled refugees and asylees. The principal objectives of RHIN were to:

  • Develop a database of multilingual / multicultural health information;
  • Identify and make accessible culturally and linguistically appropriate health and medical information in order to improve health services for refugees and asylees
  • Improve access to information concerning refugee and asylee health by state and local public health departments and other health professionals and refugee service providers
  • Enable and encourage a "culture of information sharing and communication" among health care providers who specialize in refugee health

In fall 2002, refugee health coordinators from health departments in Illinois, Massachusetts and Texas met with the Center for Public Service Communications to consider ways to gather and share information about refugee and immigrant health. They proposed the concept of creating a network of individuals and agencies providing health care to refugees and immigrants. The core feature of this network would be a central Web-based database of information accessible to everyone.

The group approached the Imaging Science and Information Systems Center (ISIS) at Georgetown University for assistance in developing the concept of a central Web-based database. The Center applied for grant funding from the National Library of Medicine for the initial development of the prototype Web site. The National Library of Medicine provided a grant for three years for this work. The National Library of Medicine also provided contract support (SIS) to add the state refugee health programs of California and Florida to the initial development process. The ISIS Center began development of a system that would support a hierarchical network for adding and reviewing materials for a database that could become a collaborative tool for the members of the group.

In the summer of 2003, the Center for Public Service Communications received funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health to convene a meeting of refugee health professionals to give guidance to the development of RHIN. Approximately 60 representatives from health departments, voluntary agencies, and community health organizations attended the first meeting, which was hosted by the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, MD, on July 15-16, 2003.The issues presented to the group included:

  • Opportunities and barriers to improving access to health care information among refugee and immigrant communities and their health care providers;
  • Development of a Web-based database that individuals and agencies providing health care to refugees and immigrants could access; and
  • Creation of a formal Refugee Health Information Network to maintain and sustain the Web site and guide future efforts to improve health care for refugees and immigrants.

Recommendations from this symposium focused on how to improve the availability of and access to culturally and linguistically appropriate health information and included the following:

  • Establish a central repository of culturally and linguistically appropriate health information. Participants endorsed the concept of a national, Web-based database of the materials with a coordinating/managing agency
  • Create standards for translation, assessing and developing multilingual and multicultural materials
  • Coordinate efforts to develop appropriate health information for refugees and immigrants to avoid duplication of efforts and ensure high-quality materials
  • Reach out to health care providers, community organizations, refugees and immigrants so they are aware of available information
  • Develop an infrastructure to sustain funding and support for continued development and dissemination of culturally and linguistically appropriate health information

Over the next two years, work continued on the development of the Web site prototype with National Library of Medicine funding. The steering committee created a series of work groups to help develop the Web site in areas of Web site usability, terminology, and quality of translation/interpreting.

A second meeting of refugee health professionals was held to critique and suggest improvements to a prototype Web-based database. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation also funded this meeting which took place at the National Library of Medicine, October 18-19, 2005. In addition to state and local refugee health coordinators, participants at this meeting included professional interpreters, Web developers, and immigrant and refugee care providers.

Recommendations from this colloquium, many of which have already been implemented by RHIN, focused on how to further develop and sustain the Web-based database and included:

  • Ensure that the Refugee Health Information Network will be sustained;
  • Create Web site that meets users’ needs, is easy to use and interactive; and
  • Maintain a high quality of information on the Web site. Within each of these general recommendations were numerous specific elements or comments on how each could be accomplished.

In October of 2014, NLM (SIS) broadened the scope of RHIN by rebranding it HealthReach. This was done to better meet the needs of the diverse non-English and English as a second language speaking audiences. HealthReach continues to recognize the importance of providing Refugee and asylee specific information while expanding the information provided to meet the needs of most immigrant populations.

RHIN was guided by the Executive Board of the Association of Refugee Health Coordinators and refugee health professionals throughout the country.

RHIN's founding members are:

  • Gale A. Dutcher
    Deputy Associate Director
    Division of Specialized Information Services
    National Library of Medicine
  • John C. Scott
    Executive Director
    President, Center for Public Service Communications
  • Jennifer Cochran
    Director, Refugee and Immigrant Health Program
    State Refugee Health Coordinator
    Massachusetts Department of Public Health
  • Laura Hardcastle
    State Refugee Health Coordinator
    California Department of Public Health
  • Sam Householder
    State Refugee Health Coordinator
    Texas Department of Public Health
  • Ed Silverman
    Illinois Department of Public Health
  • Laura Smith
    State Refugee Health Coordinator
    Florida Department of Public Health