Central Florida Health Care Explains the Importance of the Health Information Exchange
by TERESA SCHIFFER
We are living in an age of miracles when it comes to medical science. Modern healthcare professionals have a wealth of tools at their disposal to help patients recover from diseases that were once almost always fatal and improve the quality of life for many more individuals. As technology advances, we are all becoming more closely connected, including physicians and other healthcare providers.
Over the past few years, some big changes have been taking place in the way that healthcare providers communicate with each other. The Health Information Exchange (HIE) lets doctors and support staff quickly and accurately obtain a patient’s medical history, empowering them to make the best possible decisions for a patient based on all available information.
Dr. Andrew Hein is the Chief Clinical Informatics Officer and Associate Medical Officer for Central Florida Health Care in Winter Haven. He has been closely following the development of the HIE.
Currently, the term “Health Information Exchange” is used in a broad sense, encompassing many different platforms and methods of sharing information within the medical community.
“It speaks to the fact that we continue to have problems of healthcare providers being able to have timely access to information about our patients, and technology is a good way to bridge that gap and enable us to see things that we need to see about our patients,” Hein describes.
Almost every state in the U.S. is utilizing some type of HIE at this point, but the greater impetus is now to create a fully functional interface at the national level. The 21st Century Cures Act, which was signed into law in December 2016, helps to make this innovation in information sharing easier and sets up the framework for organizations to participate in the exchange.
The term “Health Information Exchanges” refers to a variety of interfaces that allow patient information to flow through multiple channels and come back to a provider in real time. Central Florida Health Care participates with several of these platforms, including Florida SHOTS and Florida’s Encounter Notification Service. Florida SHOTS is a free, statewide system that helps healthcare providers and schools keep track of immunization records in order to ensure that patients of all ages are receiving the necessary vaccinations to protect them from preventable diseases.
CommonWell Health Alliance and Carequality are two other systems Central Florida Health Care uses to improve patient care. They are just a couple of the many frameworks available to healthcare providers to make sharing patient information easier and more efficient.
“We have access to those exchanges, and they essentially link us up nationwide to any other participating provider. So if I have a patient who is a snowbird and is coming down for the winter, and their doctor up north is also participating in a Health Information Exchange, I can just click inside my electronic health record on a button and instantly have access to their records from their doctor up north.”
Ultimately, the goal is to have one nationwide exchange that will allow the disparate systems in use throughout the country to communicate with each other. The 21st Century Cures Act established the Trusted Exchange Framework and Common Agreement (TEFCA) to lay out a set of standards to support the development of such a nationwide exchange. One of the standards is that EHR (electronic health records) vendors are barred from any type of information blocking, meaning that they cannot impede the sharing of necessary medical information for proprietary reasons.
Although the global health crisis of COVID-19 has taken up much of the public’s attention for the past year, it is worth noting that the healthcare industry has been making steady progress in implementing the HIE systems. Safer-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines have thrust telehealth into the foreground lately, while the proposed rule on information blocking was quietly rolled out in October.
The Sequoia Project is the organization selected by the Federal Government in 2019 to coordinate all of the standards and protocols for the successful employment of an information exchange system at the national level. Throughout the COVID crisis, The Sequoia Project has been diligently working to unify the various standards and systems currently in place to create an effective, universally applicable HIE that will ultimately save providers and their patients time, money, and – most importantly – lives.
“It’s really about patient safety,” Hein explains, “and doing what’s best for the patient. We know that patients get over-tested, they have risks when there’s not good information available to their providers, and so this type of system allows for a better quality of care for patients.”