Regional networks exchange health data

Regional health information exchange networks can index where patients were treated and communicate with each other, Dr. David Brailer says.

Rachael Golden

Two regions are at work building parts of the National Health Information Infrastructure, and a dozen more communities will begin soon.

Santa Barbara County, Calif., and Indianapolis are setting up networks for local health care providers to share data as well as systems to store it. They are part of the Health and Human Services Department's effort to improve and secure information exchanges among hospitals, laboratories, physicians' offices and other care providers.

Funded by HHS' Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the National Library of Medicine, Santa Barbara County and Indianapolis have set up local health care infrastructures with central, secure Web sites and distributed databases. Each site has indexes and links to patient information held by various health organizations.

'It's less expensive to build locally. It also promotes sharing lessons learned,' said Dr. William Yasnoff, HHS senior adviser for the National Health Information Infrastructure.

In the next year, 12 communities in Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan and Oregon will start developing their own local health infrastructures.

The Indiana Network for Patient Care includes five Indianapolis hospital systems, the Marion County Health Department and a number of physicians' practices. The network collects demographics, lab results, and inpatient and outpatient diagnoses and procedures, said Dr. Marc Overhage, an associate professor at the Regenstreif Institute of Indiana University's medical school.

'When a patient is seen in any of the 13 emergency rooms operated by participating hospitals, and the patient consents, the information from all the institutions about that patient can be presented as one virtual medical record,' Overhage said.

Multisite paper data

Patient data is typically stored at several locations, depending on the physicians consulted and the conditions treated. Centralizing it would eliminate the need for a patient to lug paper records, X-ray films and medication lists to each doctor's office.

Regional health information exchange networks could keep indexes of where patients were treated and communicate with each other but not form a national database, said Dr. David Brailer, the HHS national health IT coordinator.

The Indiana network provides e-mail, Web access, electronic record access and medical library services. It interfaces with seven lab systems, seven hospital registration systems, four dictation transcription systems, four radiology systems, three pharmacy systems, three types of EKG cart, two surgery scheduling systems and 20 other systems, Overhage said.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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