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Health information exchanges key to connecting hospitals, providers

Using health information exchanges helps bring hospitals, providers, patients and even rival institutions together, three CIOs suggest in a panel discussion at HIMSS10.

Several factors can drive providers to join health information exchanges, including meaningful use incentives, improved collaboration and alignment with general business incentives. The role of patients -- especially snowbirds -- may play a key role as well.

During a media briefing at the HIMSS10 annual conference of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, three hospital CIOs chatted about the challenges they faced in connecting their facilities, as well as affiliated providers and even some competitors, to a health information exchange. Each hospital connects to its HIE using RelayHealth from San Francisco-based McKesson Corp., which held the media briefing.

When reaching out to potential HIE participants, it is critical to demonstrate the value of collaboration, noted Deborah Gash, vice president and CIO of Saint Luke’s Health System in Kansas City. For starters, hospital-based physicians can easily share information with providers, even those in rural areas, she said. In addition, patients receive information from doctors quickly.

This use of an HIE for collaboration also applies to health systems with disparate locations. For example, St. Peter’s Healthcare System, based in New Brunswick, N.J., has several “centers of excellence,” which focus on such specialties as cardiology and physical therapy, said Frank DiSanzo, CIO of St. Peter’s Healthcare. With patients often transferring among facilities, it pays to have information saved in RelayHealth, because it eliminates the need for duplicated, unnecessary tests, he said.

Currently, the three panelists – DiSanzo; Gash; and Eric Saff, senior vice president, CIO and chief security officer of John Muir Health in Walnut Creek, Calif. -- participate in somewhat local HIEs. All three agree, however, that as such products as RelayHealth, which require no infrastructure investment, grow in popularity; and as the link between electronic health records and personal health records becomes more seamless, today’s HIEs are poised to expand.

That, the CIOs said, will help the snowbirds among their patients. Many at John Muir Health, for example, spend the winter in Palm Springs, while some St. Peter’s Healthcare patients vacation in the Carolinas. With HIEs widespread, those patients could receive medical treatment in the winter months confident their primary care physicians would have access to treatment records once spring has sprung.

There is a greater good here.

Eric Saff, senior vice president, CIO and CSO, John Muir Health

There are challenges in getting doctors to buy into the concept behind HIEs, of course. Saff addressed this in three key ways, he said. First, he convinced physicians’ staffs to adopt the requisite technology first, so the doctors themselves would not have to start from scratch. Second, by focusing on a single patient portal, he was able to tie into the 20 or so electronic medical record systems used by John Muir Health’s various departments.

Third, Saff reiterated his point that “there is a greater good here.” To that end, he went beyond his institution’s walls, speaking with IT staff at rival hospitals about the importance of pumping data into HIEs. After all, he said, it can be downright dangerous for patients to move from one health care provider to another without taking records with them. Those institutions agreed, and have since formed a regional HIE in northern California.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Brian Eastwood, Site Editor.

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