Md. health information exchange begins operation

By Amanda Becker
Monday, October 18, 2010

A Maryland health information exchange that will allow hospitals, physicians, labs and radiology centers to share patient information within the state went live last week.

Three hospitals, three radiology centers, Quest Diagnostics and the Laboratory Corp. of America are already participating in the exchange. The network will be managed by a nonprofit called Chesapeake Regional Information System for Our Patients, or CRISP, which reports that all 48 Maryland hospitals have signed letters of intent to join the exchange over the coming months.

"Our aim is to serve the entire Maryland health-care community. We believe that eventually all the hospitals will connect and all of the ambulatory care settings will connect as well," said CRISP President David Horrocks.

The Maryland Health Care Commission designated CRISP to oversee the state's effort to create a secure exchange for electronic health information within the state. More than 300 such exchanges are in development throughout the United States as part of a larger effort to develop national exchange standards and best practices. More than 20 organizations were involved in CRISP's development, including doctors, insurance companies, hospitals and consumer advocates, who helped structure the network in a way that will protect patient privacy in accordance with applicable law.

The funding for the network came from a patchwork of state and federal grants. In 2009, Maryland allocated $10 million from a fund that insurance companies pay into to reimburse hospitals for the network's start-up costs. The state health-care commission received an additional $9.3 million in federal stimulus money that covered the cost of the exchange's rollout. In April, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that promotes the adoption of information technology gave CRISP $5.5 million to help 1,000 primary care physicians use electronic health records more effectively.

"I think our first approach is to get the tools into the hands of the physicians and they'll figure out how to best use them in care coordination," Horrocks said.

The electronic exchange is not a repository of information, but a secure method for sharing up-to-date hospital discharge summaries, radiology reports and lab results. The idea is that during medical emergencies, physicians will be able to access the health histories of those under their care. It will also help specialists and primary care providers compile complete medical histories known as continuity-of-care documents.

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