Utah rolls out first statewide health information exchange, seeking patient consent

Published: Thursday, June 16 2011 11:45 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Doctors from all four major hospital networks in the state of Utah stood together Thursday in a show of support for better patient care.

They announced a statewide implementation of shared medical information — a first anywhere west of the Rocky Mountains — through the new Clinical Health Information Exchange (cHIE). Physicians from Intermountain Healthcare, MountainStar, IASIS and the University of Utah Health Care systems are already collecting waivers from patients across the state, and when enough have signed up to participate, the sharing of information will begin.

"We are setting aside the competitive differences and focusing on working together to bring this information, with patient permission, to the doctor at the bedside as they deliver care," said Mark Bennett, chairman of the Utah Health Information Network's board of directors and president of HealthInsight.

He said that before long, the whole community will see the benefits of the program, in increased safety, reduced medical costs and less waiting time for pertinent medical information.

"Every time I go to a new doctor, they ask what medications I'm taking and I have no idea. I don't even know how to pronounce them all," said type 2 diabetes patient David Cuddy. After losing two of his toes to amputation and experiencing a loss of feeling in his right hand, Cuddy's primary care doctor recommended he see a neurologist.

His physician's office sent an electronic copy of his medical history to the various specialists, but somehow the lines crossed and Cuddy, 59, ended up taking a paper copy of the records to his appointment. Fortunately, only one test — an X-ray — had to be repeated, but Dr. Sarah Woolsey said the repetition could have been avoided had his information been readily accessible to doctors.

"We've drawn umpteen vials of blood from David's arm. He doesn't need to do that anymore," Woolsey, a family practitioner at the Stephen D. Ratcliffe Community Health Center in Rose Park, said. "Then there is the potential for misdiagnosis, the possibility of increased radiation — and no one needs any more radiation, and the cost and time spent repeating unnecessary tests and procedures."

Not to mention peace of mind that can come with knowing your bases are covered, she said.

"People want the medical system to be efficient and accurate, and sometimes we are running blind. This will level the playing field and benefit patients," Woolsey said. "It always helps to know what is going on."

The majority of Woolsey's patients see doctors within different health care systems, "and they all go to the pharmacy," she said. The cHIE program would make patient information available to doctors and nurses, as well as to pharmacists and dentists, who are in a certified treatment relationship with a patient and have received patient permission to share any information.

That permission can be withdrawn at any time, and patients can also request a report of who has been accessing their information and why, according to Dr. Chris Wood, an Intermountain family practitioner. He said information has been shared internally within Intermountain and other hospital networks for years. cHIE helps to widen that knowledge base.

"Everyone in the state can benefit from the cHIE," Utah Health Information Network President and CEO Jan Root said, adding that even healthy people sometimes end up in the emergency room.

"When cHIE is fully in place, it will take the hassle out of health care," she said.

The program aims to make the information accessible to all four hospital systems and other participating clinics in the state, which are helping to foot the $3 million annual bill for the cost to implement and maintain an up-to-date and secure system for patient information exchange.

Root said things like allergies, previous medical problems, lab results and prescription medication lists will essentially be available to help doctors and nurses maintain high quality and safe care.

"Too often at midnight, or 2 a.m., in the emergency room, I am stuck with an elderly patient who doesn't know their medications, doesn't know their heart history and is in trouble," said Dr. David Cole, president of the Utah Medical Association and an emergency room physician. "We do the best we can and we usually do pretty well, but I think we can do much, much better."

The information exchange is free to patients and they can print and fill out a consent form online, at www.mychie.org, and take it to their doctor's office to enroll.

"Medicine is finally in the 21st Century," Cole said.

Email: wleonard@desnews.com, Twitter: wendyleonards

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