To save time and money, hospitals pursue ways to share patient records

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Several hospitals in northeast Minnesota are choosing to openly collaborate with one another as part of an effort to operate more efficiently.

Nine medical groups in northeast Minnesota and western Wisconsin announced a cooperative called Wilderness Health this week, with patient information-sharing identified as one of the group's priorities, Northland's NewsCenter reports.

Mike Delfs, CEO of Mercy Hospital and the vice-chairman of Wilderness Health, told the Duluth News Tribune the members will work on a system that allows them to share medical records in a "safe, secure and efficient manner."

The nine hospital members involved (serving approximately 450,000 people in the area) are below:

  • Bigfork Valley Hospital, Bigfork
  • Community Memorial Hospital, Cloquet
  • Cook County Hospital, Grand Marais
  • Cook Hospital, Cook
  • Fairview Range, Hibbing
  • Lake View, Two Harbors
  • Mercy Hospital, Moose Lake
  • Rainy Lake Medical Center, International Falls
  • St. Luke’s, Duluth

Benefits of sharing records

The practice is still new, but advocated point out the benefits to having easy sharing capabilities – mainly, it saves the patients and hospitals money and time.

According to HealthHit.gov, using a connected database can avoid re-admissions, decrease duplicate testing, avoid medication errors and improve diagnoses in patients.

University of Michigan research found emergency patients received less redundant care – repeated medical scans, for example – when hospitals were able to share data.

Marketplace said it could save a total of $80 billion a year.

Sharing isn't easy to do right now, however.

One of the biggest hurdles to sharing patient records is simply incompatible files, the New York Times reported in September. Medical facilities have long operated independently, using different systems and programs to save and store patient records on the computer.

Often times, these systems and programs can't talk to one another – so the records can't easily be transferred from one site to another, the Times explained.

When sharing between different systems is an option, it usually requires a hefty upfront fee that rural hospitals simply can't afford, the paper said.

Health information exchange in Minnesota

Minnesota is aiming to eliminate those sharing hurdles by the new year.

Under state law, all Minnesota hospitals and health care providers have until Jan. 1, 2015 to establish a health information exchange (called an HIE for short). It must enable "the secure exchange of patient data across systems and organizations, using standards for exchange," the law (passed way back in 2007) says.

Such health information exchanges have recently been implemented in regions of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Oregon and elsewhere.

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