Maryland’s Health Information Exchange Helps Take the Blinders off Emergency Care

The headline on a Washington Post story last week was enough to give almost any healthcare consumer a moment’s pause: “Maryland Hospitals to Share Patient Data.” To which a patient might respond, “Wait, You Mean Hospitals Don’t Share Data Now?”

We see it in the Emergency Department all the time. Patients come in who have had CAT scans, or x-rays, or some other service performed at an outpatient facility, and they expect the care providers in the emergency room to be able to quickly and efficiently look up the information.

Patients often expect their history of care to be accessible, when the reality is quite different. Many hospitals, even those within the same system, keep, manage, and share healthcare records differently. Sometimes records even for one patient within the same hospital are more difficult to access than one would expect.

In fact, just a few years ago an ER doc was as likely as not to have someone pull a paper file off a shelf in a closet if they wanted to track down a medical record for a patient. Contrast that system to a country like France, for example, where people now carry a card with a microchip inside that stores their entire patient history all in one place. It seems like a relatively simple system, but the fact is a nation-wide system of health records in the United States that is as efficient and accessible as France’s “Carte Vitale” is at least ten years away, if not more.

The announcement in the Washington Post last week represents a step that is a long time coming, but it is not nearly the end. Setting up a centralized database for acute care centers to share information is an important part of making healthcare data readily accessible to those who need it. The system is also a crucial part of cost-savings, as physicians are less likely to order a costly procedure like a CAT scan if they are both aware of and have access to one that was just ordered at another facility.

In fact, all of MEP’s Maryland Emergency Departments have already been trained on and are using the electronic system described as still forthcoming by the Washington Post story. Maryland has been rolling out its version of a health information exchange (HIE) for the past year; our providers at Shady Grove Adventist were trained on the system six months ago.

The system has substantially improved the information available as our ER doctors provide care. Patients often assume their doctor knows everything they need to know to make decisions. But without the ability to efficiently access the pertinent parts of a patient’s medical history, it can often feel like making care decisions with blinders on. In order to provide care that is both high quality and cost-efficient, those blinders need to be removed.