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Patients should be foundation of health information exchange

Editor’s note: For more on HIE, please see the transcript from our live chat with experts (June, 2011)

Almost two decades before the HITECH Act was signed into law requiring providers to use electronic health records (EHRs), Dr. John Bennett, a cardiologist, was putting patient data such as medication lists and allergies into his computer. The information, backed up at the time with paper charts, helped him determine patient care in emergency, middle-of-the-night situations and made follow up care simpler.

Now, as practices and hospitals implement IT and begin trying to follow meaningful use criteria — which include tasks like creating medication lists and allergies in patient records — Bennett, president and CEO of Capital District Physicians Health Plan (CDPHP), and other providers gathered to discuss health care IT see that technology as a “no brainer” for helping to improve patient care.

“I don’t need the government to tell me what to do,” said Bennett during a keynote at a users group meeting of Healthcare Information Xchange New York, or HIXNY. “That’s what I should be doing.”

HIXNY serves as a regional health information organization (RHIO) for a 17-county area in upstate New York, including payers, major hospitals, physician practices and other health care organizations exchanging data from 1.7 million patient records. Participants in the six-year-old information exchange came together at HealthyConnex 2011 on July 9 in Troy, N.Y., to share stories about how technology has been implemented in their organizations.

Since first starting to enter patient data electronically, physicians no longer need paper records, beepers, and quarters for the payphone to supplement their information, should off-hour emergencies arise, Bennett said. Mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets, and information exchange, are becoming transformational for health care delivery. “We have the opportunity to make this an electronically-connected community like no other.”

Bennett’s address and other presentations at the HIXNY forum highlight what’s driving the flow of information. At the federal level, we hear a lot of buzz phrases like “patient-centered care,” but at the local level, the industry can begin to see what that really means.

While RHIOs like HIXNY and other information exchanges promote themselves primarily to the provider community, the data being shared would not be there if not for the consent and participation of patients. The data, in the exchange, follows the patient.

And that helps, especially when a frustrated patient wants to know whether a physician has received the lab results, images or diagnoses from other providers. When the provider can say yes, it opens up the relationship, according to Dr. Benoit Tonneau, an internist with CapitalCare Medical Group, Niskayuna, NY, at the HIXNY meeting. “The patients are impressed we can finally communicate.”

And providers can be impressed by the level of care coordination. In a specialty practice, where a doctor might not have privileges at a patient’s hospital, being able to tap into an exchange portal and access the hospital record anyway improves consultations and reduces duplication, said Dr. Les Goldstein, of Northeast Nephrology Associates.

It’s indicative of how information is following the patient, Goldstein added. “This is where the future of medicine is going.”

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