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Study: Patients Safer, Costs Lower When Doctors Share Medical Records

Courtesy of the Regenstrief Institute
Joshua Vest, Director of the Center for Health Policy at Indiana University

Patients are safer and health care costs are lower when providers electronically share patient information through health information exchanges, according to a new studyled by fourIndiana researchers.

Doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other health care providers can use these exchanges to share a patient's electronic medical records. This can be particularly helpful in an emergency or if physical records are lost or destroyed in a fire, flood or other disaster.

The researchers’ review of health information exchanges and their findings were published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association in April.  They found that in the past three years, providers reported these exchanges result in fewer duplicated procedures, including reduced imaging, lower costs and improved patient safety.  

It sounds obvious that better connected providers means better patient care said researcher Joshua Vest, Director of the Center for Health Policy at Indiana University's Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health."However, it hadn't actually been well defined and well demonstrated in the scientific literature yet," Vest said.  

The last review of health information exchanges was done in 2015. That work found there wasn't much evidence that exchanges lowered costs or improved healthcare, according to a press release from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.   

Since 2015, Vest said there have been significant changes in healthcare technology. Other states are also beginning to catch up with Indiana. For more than a decade the state has used the Indiana Health Information Exchange to share patient medical records between hospitals, practices and health systems.  

"Indiana is kind of a forerunner of this nationwide," Vest said.  

The Indiana Health Information Exchange is what the researchers refer to as a community health information exchange. These exchanges are a collaborative effort between local hospitals, providers and health systems.

These exchanges help patients too because they don’t have to track their medical history on their own. And patients don’t have to wait while providers request access to their records from other health systems by fax. It's instantly accessible through the exchange.

Vest said there’s another bonus to these exchanges. Access to records across a community or even state help doctors recognize patterns in illnesses.

"It's a hard road to go," Vest said about the health information exchanges. "It requires a lot of people working together, different organizations to participate and work with people who are sometimes competitors for everyone's collective benefit."

Vest said this latest research will hopefully push more providers to use health information exchanges and encourage policy makers to support their use.

“The evidence is much much stronger and much more convincing that sharing information has value,” Vest said.