Information technology is the key to better health care

Being connected has never been easier than it is today. Our lives are powered by easy access to data. Through our laptops, cell phones, tablets, or wearable devices we make dinner reservations, holiday travel plans, and order last minute gifts, at any hour of any day. Yet, when it comes to health care, where life and death decisions depend on accurate and timely information, we’re only beginning to harness the power of information.

The wide adoption of electronic health records (EHR) over the past 15 years has been an important step forward in making information more readily accessible for a doctor or within a hospital. However, different doctors and hospitals use different EHR systems, which is often a barrier to efficient communication.

In the Philadelphia area, for example, we have nearly 60 hospitals organized into 12 large health systems. People are regularly treated at more than one facility, making effective communication between hospitals even more vital. Creating a more efficient system will help ensure that patients receive quality care and keep health care costs down.

Fortunately, interested and committed stakeholders in Philadelphia are taking important steps to tackle this problem – and as consumers we should encourage our doctors and hospitals to connect to the power of information.

Launched in 2013, HealthShare Exchange of Southeastern PA, Inc. (HSX) is a non-profit health information exchange that securely transmits health care data among hospitals, doctors, and other health care providers to improve communication and the quality of care. The organization collects and transmits information in strict adherence to privacy laws and regulations and is the nation’s only health information exchange in a top ten major metropolitan area built on collaboration between competing hospitals and insurers.

This collaboration and collective commitment to improving health care in our region has helped HSX quickly expand. HSX now includes 40 hospitals and 8,200 physicians in the Delaware Valley. In September 2016, more than 200,000 messages were exchanged through the HSX system, and 60 percent of the messages were sent between different health systems.

By linking electronic health records and adding data from health insurers’ records, HSX gives doctors immediate access to medical information, allowing for more informed treatment decisions. For example, many primary care physicians learn that a patient has been discharged from the ER or hospital if and only if the patient calls for a follow-up appointment. Similarly, the medical records from your last hospital or ER visit reach your primary care doctor’s office only about 40 percent of the time.

When hospitals are connected through HSX, that information is sent directly to your primary care physician, specialist, or other professionals within a few hours after you leave the hospital. The discharge information allows the professionals to know what transpired and what course of therapy was prescribed. Nurse care coordinators at primary care practices have found the information particularly valuable. It allows them to reach out to their patients right away to schedule follow-up care after a hospital visit. And with accurate information about your medical history readily accessible to all your doctors and hospitals, the discomfort, inconvenience, and cost of redundant testing can be avoided.

Everyone in our region benefits from a well-designed and effective health information exchange, and as consumers we need to encourage our doctors and hospitals to participate. HSX can help your doctor make faster diagnoses and more informed treatment decisions. Ultimately, that is the standard by which we should measure any health care innovation.

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