If you polled every physician, especially emergency medicine physicians, in the country, and asked if it would be valuable to have access to patient data from Health Information Exchanges to help prevent unnecessary admissions from the Emergency Department (ED); the answer would be 100% yes. I applaud the study by Joshua Vest PhD at the Weill Cornell Medical College
to continue the national debate and increase the awareness about the importance of health information exchanges to reduce costs and unnecessary care in the country. The state of New York and others have been on the forefront to invest in the exchanges.
I realize that many are afraid to allow access to health records across a large spectrum because of HIPAA concerns, but I can tell you that as an emergency medicine physician, it’s safer for the patient. Emergency medicine physicians are the gate keepers and the ultimate patient advocate. If you become a patient in the emergency department, your physician will need to access records and diagnostic test results to avoid performing repeat tests and creating unnecessary readmissions. Many times a patient cannot remember what was done, where it was done, or even the results of the test performed. Yet, the patient is brought to a hospital in the middle of the night by ambulance to a hospital in town they have not been to. Yet, they had a vital piece of information during another stay that could mean the difference in whether additional test or admissions are performed. Even in the age of electronic medical records and advanced technology, it’s still challenging to try to get information from an unaffiliated hospital, clinic, or doctor’s office.
I actually worked a 12-hour shift in the Emergency Department just last week. I saw a patient who suffered an injury but went to an Urgent Care facility just a few hours prior to seeing me in the Emergency Department. The patient had an x-ray at the unaffiliated clinic, and therefore I didn’t have access to this information. It was a diagnostic test I needed to visualize to make the correct treatment and disposition decision. Fortunately, the urgent care clinic made a copy of the x-ray on disc and gave it to the patient. Thankfully, he brought it with him, preventing me from ordering another x-ray, adding to the cost of his treatment, and exposing him to additional radiation exposure. I was lucky in this scenario, but countless physicians (me included) could tell you stories where if we had access to information quickly, we could not only reduce cost, but improve customer service to the patient.
We must continue to educate and support the need to Health Information Exchanges to improve safety, reduce cost, and improve efficiency. This further buoys the conversation about Population Health and the continued need for integration of clinical and administrative data on a real time basis.
Byron C. Scott, MD, MBA, FACEP, FACPE
Medical Director, National Clinical Medical Leader