Karen Scoles, a primary care doctor in Philadelphia, found herself stuck. A new patient, a woman of about 70, showed up with family members concerned about her health but with no physical medical records in hand to help with a diagnosis.
“Let’s look in your chart and see what we can find,” Scoles recalled suggesting.
The electronic medical files she accessed showed that the woman had been hospitalized six weeks before, suffering from smoke inhalation after losing her home in a fire.
“I don’t think we could have started moving toward her recovery” without that critical information, she said.
Scoles, who works with HSX (HealthShare Exchange), is among thousands of doctors participating in a state-run information system that allows physicians’ offices, hospitals, nursing homes and other health care providers to electronically share medical records in real time.
“That’s incredibly valuable,” said Martin Lupinetti, president of HSX, which operates in the greater Philadelphia and Delaware Valley areas.
The goal: improve patient care while cutting costs by eliminating redundant medical tests and preventing hospital readmissions.
For instance, an emergency room doctor could quickly see whether an unconscious patient was allergic to any medications or had an existing condition that could present complications.
The information exchange also means that patients won’t have to remember every medication or test or allergy, or fill out the same forms again and again, said Joanne Corte Grossi, 60, an East Norriton resident and AARP Pennsylvania volunteer state president, who has accompanied her 89-year-old father to doctor appointments.
“You have to do the same thing over and over. ‘Dad, what’s that blood pressure medicine called? What’s the milligrams?’” said Grossi, who served as a state and as an Obama administration health official before joining AARP. “He gets annoyed. It’s really cumbersome and frustrating.”
Data security a top priority
The PA Patient & Provider Network (P3N) is made up of five regional organizations, representing most of the state’s providers and hospitals. It includes the records of over 13 million patients.
Some parts of the state, such as the Lehigh Valley, are not yet fully connected to the digital network. But most residents likely have at least some information on it, said Martin Ciccocioppo, director of the Pennsylvania eHealth Partnership, a state government program that oversees the P3N system.
The network is currently used by health care professionals, but AARP Pennsylvania wants patients to eventually be able to use it to access their own medical information, Grossi said.
Most states have some form of health information exchange, though provider participation varies widely, Ciccocioppo said.
One barrier for physician practices is the cost of buying and maintaining an electronic system. Concerns about the confidentiality and safekeeping of personal information are also paramount.
Data security is top priority. Pennsylvania has rigorous privacy practices. For example, HSX is one of the few exchanges in the country to receive the HITTRUST credential, the highest security certification available.
The exchange organizations also undergo annual security audits. Patients are included in the network automatically but may opt out. Call 717-346-1115 or visit dhs.pa.gov/citizens/healthinformationexchange.
Hilary Appelman is a writer living in State College, Penn.
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