Patients today are demanding that their physicians communicate quickly and effectively with each other. They expect referrals to be sent electronically and their medical history and personal data to be at their physicians' fingertips. Ideally, these communications would flow through one easy-to-access, universally available, completely private channel.

Making this a reality is a tall order, but one that health care professionals are taking seriously. The wide adoption of electronic medical records over the past 10 to 15 years is an important step forward in making information more readily accessible. However, if a medical practice or a hospital begins to use electronic medical records, their system may not be capable of sharing this information with other physicians or hospitals – and that's a serious problem.

In our region, which offers a wide array of excellent health care resources including 12 large health systems, people are often treated at more than one hospital and by more than one doctor. In this environment, effective communication among hospitals and physicians is vital. That's the reason behind the launch in 2013 of HealthShare Exchange of Southeastern PA, Inc. (HSX) – a health information exchange that securely transmits health care data among hospitals, doctors, and other health care providers to improve timely communication and efficiency, thus helping raise the quality and lower the cost of care.

HSX is the nation's only health information exchange in a major metropolitan area that was created by collaboration among competing hospitals and health insurers.

By linking electronic medical records from different hospitals, clinics, and physicians, and adding insurer claims data, HSX gives doctors secure, immediate access to the medical information they need to make informed treatment decisions. For example, historically, the medical records generated at your last hospital or ER visit would be sent to your primary care doctor's office only about 40% of the time. Today, hospitals that are connected through HSX can send that information directly to your primary care physician or specialist within a few hours.

Funded originally by state and federal grants, HSX is now primarily supported by hospitals representing more than 90% of admissions in the Philadelphia region, and several health insurers, including Independence Blue Cross.

Looking ahead, HSX aims to electronically connect all 15,000 doctors in the region as well as long-term care facilities, urgent care centers, ambulatory surgery centers, home health agencies, and community clinics.  Community clinics, which typically treat medically underserved populations, are often among the last in the health care ecosystem to receive health information from hospitals. The HSX is truly revolutionary and is breaking barriers to make quality health care more available for everyone.

Technology can transform health care – but only if we use it effectively.

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