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In its 2017 report to the community, New York-based health information exchange HEALTHeLINK announced that is has surpassed one million consenting patients, 96% of whom authorized their health information be shared amongst treating providers.
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HEALTHeLINK is a founding member of the Strategic Health Information Exchange Collaborative (SHIEC), a national consortium comprised of more than 60 health information exchanges that represent 38 states and provide health data on more than 250 million Americans. A health information exchange (HIE) is a secure and convenient method for accessing up-to-date, medically relevant data across organizations within the same network.
"To have people participating within an exchange is a success. What makes New York even more of a success is because they are an opt-in state," said Kelly Thompson, CEO of SHIEC. An opt-in state means patients have to actively give consent for their information to be used.
In addition to the new benchmark, participating providers were also recently granted secure access to the records of consenting minors (patients 10 to 17 years old). Access to the pediatric data requires a parent or legal guardian to sign a HEALTHeLINK consent form on behalf of the child. With the launch of minor enrollment, parents, grandparents and guardians no longer have to recall all the tests, symptoms, vaccinations, treatments and names of the various doctors associated with their child's ongoing care. For the physician, having access to this information allows for more efficient care.
Having pediatric data in HIEs isn't a new concept, but it has been trickier to integrate this information due to a quagmire of complicated state and privacy laws.
"The goal is to share information, and to be able to have the information at your fingertips while appropriately balancing the privacy interests for folks when they're -- at times -- in their most vulnerable state. And that is not an easy thing to do," Thompson said.
There are sensitive aspects to consider, which can generate debate over age of consent as it pertains to mental health, reproductive information, genetic information, sexually transmitted diseases and substance abuse. Each can be governed by individual state laws that assign varying ages of consent.
How do New Yorkers view HEALTHeLINK?
In a September 2017 consumer survey of 1,000 Western New York residents, 81% indicated they would encourage their healthcare provider to use the HEATLHeLINK health information exchange (HIE), and 82% believed electronic access to patient data was good for healthcare. The kudos echoed a high level of awareness to the benefits of sharing electronic health information through HIEs.
Having successfully enrolled over one million consenting patients into HEALTHeLINK's network can be attributed to an increased awareness of the use and benefits of utilizing HIEs among patients who have taken an active interest in the quality of their healthcare, along with a growing number of patients who have encouraged their doctors to use the service.
"The bottom line is getting data to doctors who are treating patients," said Dan Porreca, executive director at HEALTHeLINK. "It's getting the information they need so they can make better treatment decisions. The data should follow the patient wherever they go."
Electronic medical records housed on healthcare exchanges are protected under HIPAA, other applicable federal and state laws and national data exchange standards, ensuring data is safe and secure. Patients have to provide consent in order to have their information included and only participating providers have access to said information, which is housed in a system that adheres to federal guidelines and is fortified with multiple levels of protection.
In addition to enhancing security, files available on HIEs are more comprehensive. These files can include a list of all past and current illnesses, medications, medical procedures, as well as test results and treatments. Having a more complete scope of the patient's medical history allows for a higher quality of medical care, can mitigate healthcare costs and reduce medical or medication errors.
For example, doctors can review all prescribed medications the patient is taking and avoid possible allergic or undesirable interactions without having to rely on guesswork or vague recollections.
Dan Porrecaexecutive director, HEALTHeLINK
"We are the trusted source," Porreca said. "Folks send us their information, then we can make it available so when a patient arrives at a doctor maybe they haven't seen before. [Providers] can get as much information as possible so that they can make a better decision and provide better treatment."
Consistent use of HIEs has been found to not only be cost-effective but significantly improve overall healthcare quality. HIEs can reduce healthcare costs and save time that can be better allocated to improving care, according to a 2015 study by the Brookings Institution about the clinical relevance of HIEs and value of patient information.
The research revealed a significant reduction in medical testing and exams being attributed to the use of HIEs in emergency departments.
"When it's [HEALTHeLINK] used on a consistent basis, anywhere from 30% to 50% less radiology studies are performed in the emergency department," Porreca said.