Maryland hospitals to share patient data

February 16, 2012

Maryland’s 46 acute-care hospitals will soon be able to share basic patient information among themselves and with credentialed doctors, a key step that health officials and clinicians say will improve patient care and cut costs.

The development, announced at a news conference Friday at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, is being led by the Maryland’s health information exchange, a statewide system that is working to promote the secure electronic sharing of health information among approved doctors’ offices, hospitals and other health organizations.

Maryland officials have been among the most aggressive in pushing for the sharing of health information, an important piece of the federal health-care overhaul. Patients have long been frustrated by the inability of doctors at one facility to access records about a visit to another hospital. But changing the process has been slow for a variety of reasons, including reluctance by hospitals and others to exchange information with competitors.

The goal is to “help ensure that providers have the right information about the right patient at the right time so we can reduce costs and improve care for all Marylanders,” Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D) said in a statement.

The level of data available for sharing is rolling out in stages.

All of Maryland’s acute-care hospitals are providing basic patient demographic information in real time to the exchange. But it will be 18 to 24 months before the hospitals’ users are fully trained to use the shared data. This includes when any patient in the state is admitted, discharged or transferred, officials said.

Eventually, all hospitals would share much more detailed clinical data, such as lab reports, radiology reports (but not images), and clinical documents such as hospital discharge summaries and specialist reports, said Scott Afzal, who heads the arm of the nonprofit Chesapeake Regional Information System for Our Patients (CRISP) that is in charge of running the state’s health information exchange.

Four of the five hospitals in Montgomery County already provide the most detailed clinical data to the exchange. But only two — Suburban and Holy Cross — have received the extensive training to allow their users to access patient data from other hospitals, he said.

At Suburban, emergency room doctors say the additional information has allowed doctors to improve care.

In an interview posted on the CRISP Web site, Barton Leonard, who heads Suburban’s emergency department, said doctors can even access the operation notes from a surgery that took place two hours earlier.

“No more waiting on faxes or sitting on the phone waiting to talk to someone in medical records,” Leonard said.

In one case in December, Leonard said he was treating a patient with a severe infection and was able to look up his previous blood and urine cultures at another hospital and quickly get him on the right antibiotic.

Efforts in the District and Northern Virginia have lagged farther behind that of Maryland. In the District, an effort to create a health information exchange by the D.C. Primary Care Association, a private group, was suspended because of a lack of funding. The District government is working to create another exchange. In Northern Virginia, a coordinating organization exists, but an exchange has not been set up.

Lena H. Sun is a national reporter for The Washington Post, focusing on health.
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