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How the Switch to Electronic Medical Records Will Help You

Written by Kathleen Murphy

Last summer, a 56-year-old Wisconsin woman suffering from chest pain checked into the ER. Within hours, she lapsed into a coma. Single, with no family members nearby, she had no one who knew her medical history.

But then someone discovered the woman had a Facebook account where she had meticulously recorded her medications, symptoms, and hospitalizations. This led the doctors to the correct diagnosis, which saved her life.

While most people wouldn’t choose to post their personal information so openly, the story underscores how doctors must often make life-and-death decisions while lacking key information. It’s a dangerous guessing game – one that can lead to misdiagnoses, duplicated tests, adverse drug reactions, and even avoidable death. That’s why Utah health leaders have developed the cHIE (pronounced “chee” – an acronym for “Clinical Health Information Exchange”). Through the cHIE, with your permission, doctors can electronically access your full health history before even walking into the exam room. With a click of a mouse, they can review your current medications, allergies, immunizations, chronic conditions, lab results, and hospital discharge summaries. The result is increased efficiency and more accurate diagnoses, with coordinated care and improved outcomes.

Until now, Utah patients had no easy way to tell their caregivers their complete health story. Patients at Intermountain Healthcare or University of Utah facilities can access online portals with data from their visits within that particular system, but information from outside providers isn’t included. Having complete health information often requires cobbling together data from outside providers – an especially frustrating task if you have lots of caregivers. The cHIE solves this challenge by bringing together all information from your entire team. Perhaps more importantly, the cHIE is laying the groundwork for a patient-accessible personal health record, which will allow you to easily access and control what already legally belongs to you: your own personal health information. “Having direct access to complete medical records will help patients better understand their own medical needs, as well as the needs of those they care for,” says Dr. Doug Hasbrouck, executive director of HealthInsight, a Salt Lake-based nonprofit health cooperative. “As patients become stewards of their own medical information, they’ll become more engaged in their own healthcare.” The cHIE is partially funded by a federal grant which aims to advance new, innovative ways to improve American healthcare. Utah’s application, submitted by HealthInsight, was one of only 17 winners nationwide. Co-awardees of the grant include Intermountain Healthcare, the University of Utah, the Utah Department of Health, and the Utah Health Information Network (UHIN), a nonprofit medical records exchange which is building the cHIE.

Some industry leaders are calling the switch to electronic recordkeeping the biggest change in medicine since the discovery of penicillin. Here’s how the cHIE could help you:

  • Speed – Physicians know your health history fast, so you may spend less time waiting for exams or diagnoses. In an emergency, quick access to your medical history can literally save your life.
  • Safety – Doctors can immediately screen for existing conditions and medication history, reducing your risk of an adverse reaction.
  • Less hassle –All aspects of your healthcare are synched. You don’t have to bring lists of medications, dates of tests and treatments, or files from other doctors’ offices.
  • Fewer hassles for caregivers – If you care for dependent children or elderly parents, the cHIE can greatly simplify your medical recordkeeping. If you enroll minor children, you begin building their complete lifetime health record.
  • More efficiency, less waste – There are no more missing x-rays or lost lab reports.
  • Lower costs – Fewer duplicated tests and improved efficiency lowers healthcare costs, which are passed along to you.

Despite the benefits, some people have legitimate concerns about sharing their personal health information. Merri Rock, clinical coordinator at UHIN, stresses that as the patient, you are always in control of your data, and you always have a choice about your participation. There are three consent options: Allow access to all records, allow access to no records, or share only records for a single medical visit or in the case of an emergency. Unless you opt in, your records will not be shared at all. (See sidebar “Should You Really Bare All? Deciding Whether to Share Your Medical Information,” page X.) To sign up, fill out a consent form at and turn it in at your participating doctor’s office. Or ask for a cHIE form at your next checkup. All four major Utah hospital systems are participating.

While no one knows what the future of medicine will bring, the cHIE is the first step into a brave, new paperless world, where patients have access to and control of all their medical data.

Article Reviewed: June 22, 2012
Copyright © 2015 Healthy Magazine

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